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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins, on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, traded defenseman Darius Kasparaitis to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday for forward Ville Nieminen and defenseman Ricky Berry.


By landing Kasparaitis, the Avalanche got a high-profile defenseman at the trading deadline for the second straight year. Last year, they won the Stanley Cup after acquiring All-Star Rob Blake from the Los Angeles Kings at the deadline.

Colorado apparently was the only team willing to offer Penguins general manager Craig Patrick two NHL players -- and not just prospects -- for Kasparaitis, who will likely become a free agent this summer.

The Penguins had been expected to trade the 29-year-old Kasparaitis, who has talked of wanting to play again for the New York Islanders.

Kasparaitis is not an offensive defenseman, despite scoring the winning overtime goal in Game 7 of the Penguins' second-round playoff series with Buffalo last season. However, he is gritty and physical, and was one of the most coveted players at the deadline.

Nieminen has 10 goals and 14 assists in 53 games, but has fallen out of favor with Avalanche coach Bob Hartley at times. However, Nieminen has three goals and five assists in his past five games to surpass his rookie season total of 22 points in 51 games.

Berry has not scored, but was playing as a sixth defenseman for Colorado and adds depth to Pittsburgh's very thin defensive corps.

The Penguins went into Tuesday night's games trailing Montreal by six points for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Penguins have not missed the playoffs since 1990, the year before they won the first of their consecutive Stanley Cups.

Kasparaitis is expected to qualify for free agency after this season as a 10-year veteran who earns less ($1.15 million) than the league average of $1.45 million. He was awarded a $2.4 million, two-year contract in arbitration last year.

The Penguins felt the award entitled them to Kasparaitis for another season, but the matter is expected to go to arbitration. Kasparaitis'



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