Is it possible for both teams to come away as losers in the same trade?
The Penguins dealt James Neal to the Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling in a deal that makes…that makes both teams…that allows the Predators…that gives the Penguins a…
Seriously, what was the point of this trade?
Let's look at the potential rationales for why the Predators and Penguins decided to make this deal.
1. The Predators wanted an elite goal scorer
Sure, but instead they got James Neal.
Here's the thing: Wingers are generally only as good as their centers. Neal scored 40 goals in 80 games in 2011-12, then had 21 goals in 40 games in 2012-13, which had him on pace for 40 goals in an 82-game season, but he posted 27 goals in 59 games last season, which is a 38-goal pace.
The problem for the Predators is Neal did just about all that damage with Evgeni Malkin as his center.
James Neal's top linemate (% of 5v5 time together) in the last three seasons: Malkin (82%), Malkin (60%), Jokinen (65%, Malkin 2nd at 56%)— Extra Skater (@ExtraSkater) June 28, 2014
Not only was Malkin his center, but Neal also enjoyed facing weaker competition on a second line while teams focused their energy on stopping Sidney Crosby. With the Predators, Neal will be expected to play top-line minutes, likely with the solid but unspectacular Mike Fisher as his center.
The Predators finished 19th in offense last season; this deal didn't do anything to help that.
2. The Penguins are looking to get deeper
There's certainly some merit there. Patric Hornqvist, 27, will likely find himself on the right side of either Crosby or Malkin and has the potential to produce numbers similar to what Neal delivered. Hornqvist had a solid raw Corsi number last season—far below Neal's numbers—but now he'll get a chance to produce on the wing of one of the two best centers in the NHL after scoring 22 goals last season.
Spaling, 25, is a restricted free agent who should add depth by playing on a third line with Brandon Sutter, although top-six minutes aren't out of the question. He had a career-best 13 goals and 32 points last season. Spaling's possession game wasn't very strong in 2013-14, but it was an improvement over 2012-13.
While the Penguins added two forwards and dealt one, it's hard to say this extends the lineup. The Penguins have seven forwards who are unrestricted free agents (UFAs), including Jussi Jokinen and Lee Stempniak. The Penguins don't expect Jokinen to return, and Stempniak coming back is no sure thing.
In the grand scheme, this looks like the Penguins trying to play catch-up as some of their depth forwards plan their departures.
3. The Penguins are clearing cap space
Via CapGeek, Neal carries a $5 million cap hit for the next three seasons, while Hornqvist has a $4.25 million cap hit over the same period of time. Those savings will have to go toward the next contract of Spaling, who made $1.5 million last season and will likely earn the same deal or perhaps a better one.
Fun fact: James Neal scored 99 goals over the past 3 seasons in Pittsburgh. All but 22 of 'em were assisted by either Malkin or Crosby.— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) June 28, 2014
The Penguins have just 14 players signed for next season with $14 million in cap space, which doesn't leave all that much wiggle room. They have seven forwards under contract for 2014-15—Crosby, Malkin, Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Beau Bennett and Craig Adams.
The knock on the Penguins last season was they only had six forwards, and the rest of the group up front was nonexistent, and now that's almost literally the case with free agency starting July 1.
It's the rare trade that makes you think new Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford could have fetched a lot more for Neal while the Predators GM David Poile didn't have to trade a top-line winger for a top-line winger who isn't all that much better, if at all.
It's the rare trade that seems to have no winners on either side.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.
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