Pittsburgh Penguins: James Neal trade a big win

Patric Hornqvist

Patric Hornqvist

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.

  • Skip Carlsbaugh

    “At first glance, it appears the Penguins got fleeced in the swap. ”
    And at second third fourth and fifth glance. Of all the teams in the nhl, someone would’ve given more, or at least more of what penguins actually need. NOT a soft swede with half the goals of neil plus another useless “throw in” neither of which are good hitters very physical etc. and neither even have on nhl fight. Pansies their will be again this season.

    • Chris

      Folks I’ve been a penguins fan since before we had a team here in Nashville. I have the enviable position of being on both sides of this. If you think the pens got fleeced you don’t know anything about hornqvist and spalling. Soft Swede is certainly a misnomer for a guy that stands in the crease night after night takes a beating while getting in the goalies head and is happy about it. He plays with as much heart as any player in the league and is certainly not talentless. Pittsburgh had lacked someone willing to do what he does for a long time. As previously stated only time will tell how this shakes out but as a fan of both teams I’m far more concerned about Neal here versus hornqvist there.

      • Skip Carlsbaugh

        Problem is, they needed real actual toughness. The penguins are painfully soft and that is what they need more than anything. This was a perfect opportunity to address, yet they didn’t. Hornqvist might be a very acceptable piece of the puzzle. But its frustrating to watch them ignore obtaining the pieces they need most. Hornqvist does nothing to address their biggest issues. And as far as THE PENGUINS situation goes, Spalling is absolutely useless. He is a space filler on the bottom 6 that doesn’t fill the gaping toughness hole they have there either. And of course isn’t skilled enough to be a top 6 guy by any stretch of the imagination.
        Bad deal for PENGUINS. Might change mind if they pull a miracle and go on to effectively address their dire needs later, but having heard rumors of who they are interested in, none address the real needs.

        • Skip Carlsbaugh

          Over the course of the last few years, we have become sickeningly soft. Right down there with the softest teams. Which as a long time pen fan is absolutely disgusting. Its not a style of play I enjoy, or one that usually finds much success.

          • Andrew Zeigler

            What top-6 player would you think the Pens could have gotten for Neal that fits your “toughness” quotient? Hornqvist plays in the corners , along the boards, and in the crease.

            Let’s see how Neal does for himself without a world-class talent on his center. Stick handling? No. Speed? No. Toughness? Not unless you count dirty as tough. We will see.

          • Skip Carlsbaugh

            First off anrew, to say there are none in the entire league to be part of that trade out of the entire nhl would be laughable. 2nd, I didn’t say a thing about top six player. Spaling is not legitimately a top 6 guy and was part of the deal. Im not against the trading of neal at all. Im against the exact return and the fact it didn’t address the biggest need they have, and still have even a month later after having made other moves a a nearly full lineup, with night to night players basically and unfortunately already accounted for.

  • DWdrummer

    As with any trade it’s impossible to foretell the future but at first blush, I’m ok with it. Yes Neal was a decent player but his failings are exactly what the team are trying to get away from. His costly penalties. One dimensional playing. No defense and certainly no passing. Hopefully the new guys will add grit and bring back some heart and determination.

    • Lanny

      Neiher player is a “gritty” player by any stretch of the imagination. You are clueless. If you think these guys bring toughness I am sure glad you aren’t the gm.