The Pittsburgh Penguins made their presence known in a big way at the NHL entry draft on Friday.
After a lot speculation and weeks of rumors, the Penguins pulled the trigger on one of the biggest trades in years, and made the first major personal move of GM Jim Rutherford’s tenure in Pittsburgh: trading James Neal to the Nashville Predators for RW Patric Hornqvist and center Nick Spaling .
At first glance, it appears the Penguins got fleeced in the swap. After all, Neal is a former All-Star and 40-goal scorer who had incredible chemistry with center Evgeni Malkin and was on an extremely cap-friendly contract.
Hornqvist, on the other hand, has scored 20 goals or more in four of his six NHL seasons, but has only broken the 30 goal plateau once, and that was back in 2009.
Spaling, 25, is a pending RFA coming off of a career season that saw him net 13 goals and 30 points. Possession wise, he was one of Nashville’s worst forwards, finishing the season with a CF% just north of 45%. That said, he can play center or wing, and is a very adept penalty killer.
The Penguins don’t gain any cap room from the swap, and have to re-sign Spaling next week.
It’s an underwhelming return for a player of Neal’s caliber, and with the Pens strapped for both cash and draft picks, many fans, myself included, would have liked to see Pittsburgh get at least a second or third round pick out of the deal.
Still, I’m not ready to bash the trade just yet.
Here’s the thing: while he was talented, Neal’s presence had a negative effect on the Penguins dressing room and it was reflected by his controversial hits on the ice.
Yes he scored 40 goals once, but he has failed to reach that mark since, and there was no guarantee that Neal would ever hit it again.
So when trying to get rid of a locker room cancer, your hands are kind of tied as to what you can get back in a trade. Neal was a fan favorite in Pittsburgh, someone who many thought would put Pittsburgh over the top and help the team win another Stanley Cup.
But he didn’t. Pittsburgh won exactly nothing while Neal was here, and in 38 career playoff games with the Penguins, Neal failed to score a goal in 31 of them.
He also had the benefit of playing with an elite center in Malkin, and what’s more, his production dipped dramatically when the pair were split up. Of his 99 goals with the Penguins, 77 of them came with Malkin on the ice.
On the other hand, Patric Hornqvist is an extremely smart, two way player who will most definitely net 30 a season playing on either the first or second line, but is talented enough to produce no matter who his line mates are.
He was also an assistant captain in Nashville, so don’t be surprised to see him take on a similar role in Pittsburgh.
If the Penguins can re-sign RFA Brandon Sutter and keep Spaling as their 4th line center, it’s most definitely an upgrade to the bottom six as well.
While it looks rough at first, I’m relatively happy with the trade, even though I would have liked a draft pick since the Pens traded their 2nd and 3rd round picks in deadline deals the past two springs.
The Penguins still have a lot of holes to fill, but this was a step in the right direction.
Overall, I give the trade a solid B.