During the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager, Jim Rutherford announced that he had made a deal with the Nashville Predators to trade F James Neal in exchange for F Patric Hornqvist and F Nick Spaling.
Rutherford making the decision to trade Neal, who placed fourth in points on his team last year, has left a lot of fans confused and angry.
The point of trading Neal wasn’t to free up space in the salary cap. The trade actually only freed up about $/800,000, which will help Rutherford sign a complimentary winger to play alongside Evgeni Malkin. The point in trading Neal was to simply bring in a different player, as Rutherford explained shortly after the trade.
“We were just trying to change the mix of our team and get a little different type of player,”
What Rutherford saw in Neal has been what a lot of people have ignored.
In the 59 regular season games that Neal played last year, Neal scored 27 goals and accumulated 34 assists for a total of 61 points. As impressive as his numbers were, Neal showed no shame in taking unnecessary penalties. Neal accumulated a total of 61 PIMs, which was a lot better than his second season with the Penguins where he accumulated 81 PIMs.
Aside from taking unnecessary penalties, Neal isn’t the most talented skater in the league and he lacks in the backchecking department.
When Rutherford was named GM, he stated that he did not feel like the team needed a core shake up, which he has not done and will not do. Rutherford saw the chance to manage an already well-established team, but understood that making changes to the front office and coaching staff weren’t going to be the only changes needed to get the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals again.
So what exactly did the Penguins receive in exchange for Neal?
Hornqvist scored 22 goals and accumulated 31 assists last season for a total of 53 points. While Hornqvist’s numbers are slightly lower than Neals, Hornqvist will bring a few traits to his new team that Neal lacked. Hornqvist is hard-hitting, gritty and will be able to bring a much-needed “edge” to the team. Spaling, who scored 13 goals and accumulated 19 assists last season, will also help bring an edge to the team with his large frame, grittiness and penalty-killing abilities.
No one likes to see a beloved player become a trade victim, but the Penguins needed to make a change to their lineup if they want to become real Stanley Cup contenders again.