Pens trade Neal to Predators for 2 forwards
PHILADELPHIA — The reconstruction of the Penguins has begun.
With majority co-owner Ron Burkle on hand for the NHL draft, the Penguins dealt right wing James Neal, a talented sniper whose playoff performances and temper outburst sometimes troubled the organization, to the Nashville Predators on Friday for right wing Patric Hornqvist and left wing Nick Spaling.
“We wanted to change the mix of the team,” general manager Jim Rutherford said.
A shift from a top-heavy roster to one more balanced appears to have been triggered.
Hornqvist, 27, is a former 30-goal scorer. He never had the luxury of playing with a gifted playmaker during his time in Nashville.
Neal is a gifted perimeter scorer. Rutherford's assessment of Hornqvist indicated that the Penguins wanted a player stylistically different from Neal.
“We wanted to get a player with an edge, someone who goes to the net, works the corners,” he said.
Hornqvist possesses strong advanced stats and puck possession numbers.
Neal was stunned by the trade.
The 26-year-old told the Tribune-Review that he never requested a trade and did not see this one coming. He said he had no indication the Penguins were looking to move him.
“It's a real bummer,” he said.
Center Evgeni Malkin likely will consider the trade a bummer, too.
Malkin and Neal are close friends and linemates. Neal's 40-goal campaign during the 2011-12 season coincided with Malkin's MVP season.
Rutherford said he is concerned Malkin won't be pleased. He also said he will aim to please Malkin when free agency begins Tuesday.
“You're always concerned about that with your top players,” Rutherford said. “This gives us a better chance to do something on July 1 that might be suitable to Geno.”
Nikolai Kulemin, an unrestricted free agent who is a former 30-goal scorer, could be available. Rutherford said he wouldn't identify any free agent targets, but Kulemin is one of Malkin's best friends.
However, because they have unloaded Neal's $5 million annual salary cap hit and because the NHL announced Friday that the cap will increase to $69 million next season, the Penguins suddenly will become players on Tuesday.
“I'm not going to name any names,” Rutherford said. “But we think we can get somebody who can fit.”
Neal will be remembered as one of the most gifted snipers in team history. He led the NHL in power-play goals during the 2011-12 season and formed a chemistry with Malkin.
Neal also was known for having a surly personality. He has been suspended three times in his six-year career. The Penguins are eager to develop a stronger locker room next season, and Rutherford didn't deny that eliminating Neal could help.
“Everything comes into play,” he said.
Rutherford said he spoke with about 15 teams regarding Neal and that “most” of those conversations were initiated by other teams. He had been speaking with Nashville for about a week. “We had a few offers,” Rutherford said.
The Penguins are adding two players for slightly more than what Neal makes. Neal is due $5 million annually during the next four seasons. Hornqvist is set to make $4.25 million during each of the next four seasons. Spaling is a restricted free agent and earned $1.5 million last season. He likely is in line for a small raise.
Spaling, 25, scored a career-high 13 goals last season. He is a strong penalty killer and figures to project on the Penguins' third line with Brandon Sutter.
“We like that he can play all three positions,” Rutherford said.
Getting Hornqvist, though, was the key to the trade.
“He's just an all-around player,” Rutherford said. “That's what we wanted.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins notebook: Kunitz ‘really close’ to return
- Penguins star Crosby talks about his experience with mumps
- Penguins notebook: Zatkoff returns to team as Fleury’s backup
- Penguins continue to thrive, despite spate of ailments
- Fleury’s career-best 6th shutout lifts Penguins over Avalanche in overtime
- Mumps confirmed for Penguins’ Bennett; team intern also affected
- Penguins’ Maatta to seek second opinion for shoulder
- Penguins defenseman Letang having best season in new system
- Penguins player might have exposed Children’s Hospital patients to mumps