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Analysis: A Look at the Pens Hornqvist/Spaling-Neal Trade

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


General manager Jim Rutherford pulled the trigger on his first trade at the helm of the Penguins organization. Pittsburgh acquired forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling from the Nashville Predators in exchange for forward James Neal.


The Penguins and Predators have been talking for about a week on this deal. Many other options were discussed, including a deal including more pieces. The two sides decided to make the deal prior to the start of the draft.

“We talked to about 15 teams, those calls were mostly initiated by them. I had a few offers to consider,” Rutherford said. “(Talks with Nashville) had been going on for about a week. We talked about a few other things, making it bigger. We got here tonight and met before the draft and decided we were going to do it.”


Patric Hornqvist – The talented winger is a four-time 20-goal scorer who posted a career-high 30 goals in the 2009-10 season. Hornqvist, 27, plays with grit and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He has a finishers touch and should thrive in a top-6 role playing with a star center like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

“Hornqvist plays at the net, goes to the net, works the corners,” Rutherford said. “We like Hornqvist a lot. We think he’s a complete player, an all-around player, a player that plays with an edge. He’ll be good in the playoffs.”

Nick Spaling – The rugged forward will add grit and battle to the Penguins’ bottom-6 forwards. Spaling, 25, is versatile, can play all three forward positions, and plays the game with a ton of heart. His acquisition also adds some depth to the Penguins’ forward position.

“Character, good dressing room guy,” Rutherford said. “It gives us more balance in our forwards. It’s something I talked about when I got the job, I wanted to get more balance 1-12.

“He’s also a player that can play all three forward positions. So if one of our centers gets hurt he can just slide in there, very versatile player. I think he’s very important to this deal.”

Cap space – The Penguins will save nearly $800k in salary with Hornqvist ($4.25 million) as opposed to Neal ($5 million). That extra space gives the Penguins some flexibility as the free agent period approaches. And Rutherford said he plans on utilizing that extra cash to possibly find a winger to replace Neal for Malkin.

“By doing this, we have a better chance of doing something on July 1st that may be suitable to ‘Geno,’ too,” Rutherford said. “The deal we made helps with our cap space. I’m not going to call out any names (of free agents), but we think we’ll get somebody to fit on his line.”

(Note: Spaling will be a restricted free agent, but whatever his salary ends up being it will likely be offset by current Penguins players entering the free agent pool. The Penguins consider the cap swap of this deal as a straight up between Hornqvist-Neal).


James Neal – Neal, 26, is a six-time 20-goal scorer and topped out at 40 goals in the 2011-12 season. He’s still an elite talent, but the last two seasons he’s missed several games due to injury and suspension. Neal is a hard talent to part with, but to collect pieces of value you have to give up pieces of value.

“We were just trying to change the mix of our team and get a little different type of player,” Rutherford said.


The Penguins identified the types of players that want on their team, the type of players that have grit and character, the type of players that will help them win in the playoffs. Hornqvist plays with an edge, but still has a valuable scoring touch. While Spaling with strengthen the depth and added heart to the lineup.

“These guys play the game hard. They play with an edge,” Rutherford said. “They’re great team guys that we have in our room. Some of the things we talked about, we have two players like that.”

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