The Nashville Predators took on a completely different identity to start this season compared to the previous 15, with a new bench boss taking over in Peter Laviolette. The Predators also went out and signed the likes of Mike Ribeiro, Anton Volchenkov, Derek Roy, and Olli Jokinen; but perhaps their biggest game changer was the acquisition of James Neal from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
We’ve got just around 15 games left in this regular season so we’ve got a good sense of what Neal can and has done for Nashville and what Spaling and Hornqvist can and have done in Pittsburgh; so who’s the winner of this trade so far?
The meat of the Neal for Spaling and Hornqvist trade at this past summer’s draft was Neal for Hornqvist. Hornqvist served and still does serve as a fantastic net front presence. Despite being just 5’11” he can battle with the best of ’em. Neal is a bit more of a free skater, he likes to receive the puck skating through the circle or slot to display his fantastic wrister as that is the strength of his game.
Each player was brought to their respective teams because in the past neither team had what they brought to the table. Hornqvist was acquired to be that scrappy guy and tip home pucks and Neal went to Music City to be that sniper the team had been missing for years. So, from that perspective each team did win the trade, but one team is winning in better fashion at the moment.
Hornqvist has had a stellar year with the Penguins. He’s been seen along side Sidney Crosby and David Perron as of late on the team’s top line, and deservedly so. The 28-year-old has 42 points (22G, 20A) in 52 games in the black and gold. He’s been a 20-goal scorer in each of his last five full NHL campaigns. He’s simply done what Pittsburgh has wanted him to do and has been a tremendous boost to that top-six group of forwards.
We can’t forget about Spaling either. The 6’1” winger has spent time on just about every line this year and has contributed. He’s netted nine goals and added 13 assists in 66 games played. He’s that type of ‘grinding’ player that can go to the corners and escape with the puck and before you know it he finesses his way to the crease and pokes one home. He also has nine points in 22 career playoff games, so he’s performed admirably there as well.
Now, onto Neal. It’s flown under the radar, but the forward is having one of his worst seasons in quite sometime. Neal recorded 61 points in just 59 games a year ago, 36 in the shortened 2012-13 season, and was an 81 point scorer in the season before that. This year, with his 22 goals and 13 assists in 62 games he is on pace for just 41 points this season which would be his lowest total since playing 59 games with the Dallas Stars in 2010-11.
For what it's worth, Hornqvist has 20 goals in 51 games. James Neal has 21 goals in 60 games. Apples and oranges, of course. But still.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) March 7, 2015
Looking back at the start of Neal’s time in Nashville, he looked to be that game changing forward they brought him into be netting seven goals through his first 10 games including a hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks in just his seventh game in a gold sweater. Recently, a totally different Neal has appeared and he has just one point (one goal) in his last 10 games played. During that time Nashville’s record is a poor 3-6-1.
Both the Penguins and the Predators were in the market to make a change on their roster for players they simply didn’t have before. Both teams have won in that respect. Each player (Neal and Hornqvist) sits in the top-four of scoring for their clubs and have made a major impact. Each team is different obviously. The Predators don’t have the likes of Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby to dish the puck to other players, but its starting to seem as if Hornqvist in Pittsburgh may be taking the belt at the moment.