The Penguins’ early returns in the Hornqvist trade have not been encouraging

Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) /

When the Pittsburgh Penguins traded fan favorite Patric Hornqvist last fall, the Penguins simultaneously got worse offensively and defensively

As a member of the Penguins, Hornqvist earned his money by providing that gritty, physical edge that the team lacked from the more speedy, skillful skaters. Horny was the heart and soul of the team, beloved by all for his propensity to dive headfirst into the action.

I mean, he scored the cup-clinching goal against the Nashville Predators in game six of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, arguably the biggest single goal in Penguins’ history.

Over the course of six seasons in Pittsburgh, Hornqvist played up and down the lineup and was a constant presence on the power play.

After the Penguins preliminary round exit against the Montreal Canadiens, then general manager Jim Rutherford decided to shake things up. One of those moves was trading Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Mike Matheson and Colton Sceviour.

The Pens were supposed to be getting rid of an aging, injury-prone forward with a big contract and be getting back a lightning-quick defenseman with a longer, almost-as-big contract and some offensive upside and a depth forward.

So far early this season, the return has been… not good, to put it lightly.

Hornqvist has gelled well with the Panthers, playing on the second line with center Alexander Wennberg and winger Jonathan Huberdeau. In 10 games, Horny has scored six goals and dished four assists. Coincidentally, he’s also scored four goals on the power play this season, one less than the Pens as a team. Also coincidentally, he’s scored the same number of goals as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

With the Penguins’ power play struggling mightily, scoring at just 13.9%, the Pens could use someone like Hornqvist to fight in front of the net, tipping shots and screening the goalie. The Pens haven’t been able to replace him this season on the PP.

While Hornqvist has thrived in a new location, so far, Matheson hasn’t had such an easy transition.

Matheson has only played in three games this season, suffering an injury against the Flyers in game two this season. It’s tough to rag on Matheson too much, with him acclimating to a new team and dealing with injuries, but he hasn’t looked particularly good in the lineup, and it is a what have you done for me lately kind of league.

Sceviour was the additional return for the Penguins but with one year remaining on his deal at just over a million dollars due this season, he was just a depth piece included in the trade. He does have two goals in eight games this season, but he hasn’t played since Jan. 28.

The issue boils down to contracts. Matheson is only 26 years old, so he’s got a lot of tread on the tires but there’s no indication that’s going to improve as a player down the line. So, while he’s younger, allotting $4.85 million over the next five and a half years is just as risky as allotting $5.3 million over the next two and a half years.

It was probably time for the Penguins to consider moving on from Hornqvist, but if the issue was his potential cap hit down the line, why trade for a player making nearly as much for double the length of the contract?

Hornqvist certainly will not shoot 17% this season or average a point per game, but it’s clear he’s still a very serviceable player. And the Penguins seem to have more questions than answers at this point.