Maple Leafs trade Ponikarovsky to Penguins

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky was traded late Tuesday to the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Luca Caputi and defenceman Martin Skoula.

Alexei Ponikarovsky is headed to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and possibly Sidney Crosby's left flank.

Ponikarovsky, 29, was traded to Pittsburgh late Tuesday, on the eve of the NHL's trade deadline, by the Toronto Maple Leafs in return for forward Luca Caputi and defenceman Martin Skoula.

"I didn't think this was a deal we'd be able to do," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "If you'd have told me we could do it a few days ago, I'd have said, 'No way.'

"This gives us a chance to be a good team again. I was happy with our team. We didn't have to take anything off our team."

Ponikarovsky was scratched from the lineup prior to Toronto's 5-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, fuelling speculation that he was being peddled.

"I don't think you should look at Poni and where he goes as a distraction," Maple Leafs forward John Mitchell, who scored Toronto's lone goal, said in trying to explain the loss.

"We're all professionals here and we have to go out and play. We know what's at stake, especially on a day like this. We shouldn't be distracted by that, but maybe some guys are."

Ponikarovsky has posted 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points in 61 games this season, his ninth in the NHL, and was one of the few Leafs with a plus rating.

The rugged left-winger has compiled 114 goals and 257 points in 477 NHL games since he was drafted in the fourth round (87th overall) by Toronto in 1998.

He will be reunited in Pittsburgh with countryman Ruslan Fedotenko, also from Ukraine.

"He is a good, hard-working winger who drives to the net hard," Fedotenko said of Ponikarovsky, who counts $480,000 US against the salary cap for the rest of the season.  

"He has good size. He is a good player. I feel like he is a good addition for us."

'Luca was the guy they wanted'

Caputi, 21, is an offensive-minded prospect with NHL games to his credit (two goals, three points).

The Toronto native has 47 points in 54 games with the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this season.

"Luca was the guy they wanted," Shero said. "We had a long discussion internally.

"That was not a guy we wanted to trade or looked to trade. But at the end of the day, Poni was that guy [we needed more]."

Skoula, competing in his 10th NHL season, has played 33 games with Pittsburgh this season and, though affordable at $575,000 US, is eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1.

The 30-year-old veteran has totalled 44 goals and 193 points with 324 penalty minutes in 757 NHL games since the Colorado Avalanche selected him 17th overall in the 1998 draft.

He has also played for the Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild.

With files from The Canadian Press