Penguins deal Neal to Predators

James Neal was finally moved going from Pittsburgh to Nashville.

James Neal was finally moved going from Pittsburgh to Nashville.

In no real shock, the Penguins found a taker for James Neal sending him to the Predators in exchange for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. An interesting deal to say the least due to the return. Rather than get a draft pick or prospect, Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford acquired two NHLers who can improve their depth. The early reaction from Pens fans hasn’t been warm and fuzzy.

Hornqvist is a 27-year old Swede who’s posted four seasons of 20 goals or more including a career best 30 in ’09-10. Following an injury riddled 2013, he returned to form posting 22 goals while setting career bests in assists (31) and points (53). On a low scoring roster, that’s not bad. Seventeen of those points came on the power play and he also notched six-game winners. He is signed through 2017-18 making an average of $4.25 million per year.

Spaling is 25 and more of a checking forward coming off his best season. In 71 games, he set new career highs across the board in goals (13), assists (19), points (32), power play goals (3) and shorthanded goals (1). He earned $1.5 million this past season and is restricted this summer.

Compared to Neal who’s been injury prone and developed a bad reputation, it might not be as bad as first thought. But it’s ironic that they actually took on more salary. In ’13-14, he registered 27 goals and 34 assists for 61 points in just 57 games. Nearly half the production came on the man-advantage where he notched 11 power play goals and 26 power play points. Interestingly, he’s signed through 2017-18 at an average cap hit of $5 million.

A bad showing in the postseason doomed him. He finished with only two goals and two helpers in 13 games. That included three points against the Rangers but none in the last three during the Pens’ second round ouster. He also didn’t score after Game 1. Criticized throughout, Neal goes to his third team with something to prove. How much will his production suffer on the Predators? Can he stay healthy? The Preds are counting on him.

It will be hard to determine a winner. Much depends on how Hornqvist and Spaling fit into Pittsburgh, who finally hired new coach Mike Johnston. They sent new assistant Rick Tocchet to the stage for their first pick but the former Flyer was greeted with boos at Wells Fargo Center.

OT, got to love Gary Bettman getting the best out of the Flyers faithful. My favorite highlight was him getting ready to announce a trade. He remarked, “I might have a trade to announce. “Oh now the booing stops.”

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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