For the Pittsburgh Penguins, the summer of 2014 brought change.
They have a new general manager (Jim Rutherford), who hired a new head coach (Mike Johnston), and they now possess a new-look roster.
Really, that’s it? That’s all Pittsburgh retrieved for Neal? What a bogus trade.
That seemed to be – or at least the vast majority – of the reactions to the transaction, not just Pens’ fans, and rightfully so. When you picture Neal, you think prominent goal-scorer, top-six talent, and a player who could fetch more than just two so-so pieces.
Yet, as I’ve mentioned this in other articles, it’s best to wait and see who actually won the swap. And after analyzing it, I’m not so sure Nashville robbed Pittsburgh blind as it looked at first. In fact, after a few months in thinking about it, I now believe the Pens won that three-player swing.
Why? Mainly because of Hornqvist, who’s just as capable as Neal, and in time, will become a fan favorite.
Nashville can’t score. Their top center last season was Mike Fisher; that alone should explain their offensive situation. Not knocking Fisher, he’s just not a first-liner. And Hornqvist, despite playing in just 76 regular-season contests, ranked second on the Preds in scoring (53 points).
If that point total doesn’t provide you with a picture of how Hornqvist will fair alongside Evgeni Malkin, you must be too fixated on Neal’s production. Before Neal arrived in Pittsburgh, his stat-line was about the same as Hornqvist’s. And, in my opinion, Neal was playing with much better players – Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Brendan Morrow, Mike Ribeiro, Brad Richards, etc.
Malkin has molded Neal into what he is now, and he’ll form a better, more effective, tandem with Hornqvist. Malkin and Hornqvist will benefit off each other’s tendencies.
Pittsburgh needs Malkin to score more, and having Neal, who’s a shoot-first guy with him wasn’t boding well for his goal total. Malkin became too passive. Which is Sidney Crosby‘s problem at times, but that’s his style, not Malkin’s. And because Hornqvist goes to the net – unlike Neal – Malkin will take more shots. Hey, if Jussi Jokinen could perform exceptional with Malkin, Hornqvist’s production is inevitable.
Sure, Hornqvist gets hurt, and he’s had trouble with injuries recently, but who hasn’t? Especially Neal, who missed 20-plus games last season. Hornqvist, with the way Pittsburgh piles up the injured reserve, should fit in. And no, I’m not saying adding another player with a recent injury problem is good. It just shouldn’t be a factor, considering in today’s NHL there’s a higher percentage of players who are oft-injured.
Sometimes, when people analyze trades, they get too caught up in how many goals one player scored, or how many points they garnered. That’s just not a valid evaluation. Protocol says you trade great players for a plethora of pieces, not just two. That’s not always required. Rutherford sought balance, and he got it.
Not to mention, he snatched up Spaling, who, if you know the Penguins, should aid that horrendous secondary scoring. Plus, he’s still young, and a recent second-round pick. Last year he made strides, he’ll make more this season. And as far as Hornqvist goes, I expect him to have career year.
There’s always a chance Hornqvist winds up out of sync with Malkin – few can play with him. But given they’ll have a full season to figure each other out, unlike Jokinen and Neal, Hornqvist’s odds to excel with the mighty Malkin are certainly better.
Do I believe Hornqvist will be a more effective all-around talent than Neal? Yes. Is there a chance he turns out to be a bust? Of course.
But I’m not counting on that happening.
Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins