Last season was the first one James Neal and Patric Hornqvist spent with their new teams. On June 27th, 2014, Neal was traded to Nashville for Hornqvist and bottom-six player Nick Spaling. At the time, many viewed this as a huge coup for Nashville, in that they had just acquired a premier goal-scoring winger for a couple of players (mostly Hornqvist) who are much less “gifted.”
Speculation at the time held that Neal was having a detrimental effect on the Penguins locker room, so it was a “must sell” situation.
Pens General Manager Jim Rutherford spoke about how the trade benefited the cap situation. Here is a short interview done by Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports’ Puck Daddy Blog.
Now that this deal is almost a year in the past, — its effects will continue into the future — let’s take another look at how things have turned out.
Last season was a down year for him, scoring less goals and having far fewer assists. I’m certain not playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin would have this effect on any player. Still, it shows that Neal may be more of a “system” scorer than a pure goal scorer.
Simply put: Neal is not the 40-goal scorer that Neal was back in 2011-12. I’m not saying that he’s a poor player or even that he’s not a talented scorer; I believe that Neal’s 40-goal year was the aberration, not the rule.
That he hasn’t again broken even the 30-goal mark can attest to that. Add on all the talk about his locker room presence and his on-ice headhunting, it’s no longer hard to understand why Neal became expendable.
It was an injury plagued season for the Penguins, and Hornqvist played fewer games last season than he did the year before in Nashville. Regardless, he put up consistent numbers. Playing a more “balanced” game, he had one more goal than he had assists, and his numbers match up fairly well with what he did the season before.
You’ll note that he had better numbers overall than Neal; playing fewer games. He also brought with him the type of game the Penguins were in desperate need of – someone who was unafraid to consistently go to the front of the net.
Spaling never seemed to find his groove last season, as he was constantly playing with different line combinations with players often from the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. He was the lesser partner in this trade, but he played a valuable role on an injury plagued team by playing all 82 games. That in and of itself was a valuable asset acquisition for the Pens. Add on his routine numbers for a bottom-six player and you have more of a reason to view the trade as a favorable one for the Pens.
The value of this deal may again change in the future, as the players involved continue to contribute to their new teams. Neal may regain his 40-goal form and march Nashville all the way to the Cup. Hornqvist may improve his play further in connection to the Penguins improved health.
Nick Spaling may, well, continue to be Nick Spaling – a valuable, if offensively limited, player.
As of right now, though, the Pens get the nod as the winners of the Neal for Hornqvist and Spaling trade.
Lee is a contributor here at The Hockey Writers as well as at Pens Initiative. A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, he worked an internship at VH1 Radio in NYC and served as Editor-in-Chief of the Penn State – New Kensington campus student newspaper, The Nittany Pride. You can visit Lee’s website here: leecjsobotka.com.