Pittsburgh Penguins Offseason Grades: Nick Spaling Needs to Be More Productive


When Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford traded James Neal to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, it seemed the move was an attempt at adding depth with only a small increase in salary. But, when contacts were finalized and Spaling, a restricted free agent, received $2.2 million it was a bit shocking.

More from Penguins News

Spaling contributed 27 points in 82 games. He spent a lot of the season moving up and down the lineup to help fill voids left by injury, but found himself playing mostly third line minutes.

You can say a lot of good things about his contributions on the defensive side of things. However, he was almost nonexistent on the score sheet for much of the season. Is 27 points sufficient for someone making $2.2 million? Do his contributions elsewhere make up for the difference?

It’s not far-fetched to say that Spaling was the best defensive forward for the Pittsburgh Penguins on multiple occasions. But, his overall defensive and possession stats were middle of the pack. A case can be made that Brandon Sutter had a negative impact on those stats, as he is a possession bottom-feeder and played more minutes alongside Spaling than any other Penguin. In any case, if Spaling is going to be counted on in a shutdown role you’d like to see underlying numbers to support that school of thought.

My biggest gripe with Nick Spaling is that he was practically invisible for most of the year. He was an empty jersey, as the old saying goes. I can’t say that he was particularly bad, but just completely unnoticeable on the ice. Considering his salary, you expect more of a presence from him.

There are rumors throughout the media that members of the Pittsburgh Penguins front office rallied for Jim Rutherford to pass on Nick Spaling as part of the deal. I personally think they would have been much better off swapping Neal for Hornqvist straight up. At this point, Spaling is an overpaid fourth liner.

Grading Nick Spaling’s 2014-15 campaign, I have to go with a D+. As I said, he was good defensively, and showed signs of being great in that aspect of the game. But, it wasn’t often enough. And, his production (or lack there of) was simply unacceptable.

Based on the small amount of cap room the Pittsburgh Penguins would save by buying him out, and the fact that there won’t be much interest from the around the league for him, I’d imagine that he’ll be back next season. If that’s the case, and you’re in the camp that believes Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis will be in the bottom six, you’re looking at roughly $8.8 million tied up in bottom six wings.

It goes without saying that paying that much for bottom six wingers can be detrimental. Unfortunately, though, that’s the situation the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in due to bad contracts that carried over from the previous management regime. Hopefully with a healthy roster and more fitting role, we’ll see an improved Nick Spaling in 2015-16.

Next: Grading Sidney Crosby's 2014-15 Season

More from Pens Labyrinth