Pittsburgh Penguins: Revisiting the Patric Hornqvist Trade

Patric Hornqvist has played 407 regular-season games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring 264 points along the way. Thanks to his efforts beyond point scoring, he’s become a fan favorite in the city. 

Related: Penguins’ Best & Worst Trades of the Decade

Over his six seasons in Pittsburgh, Hornqvist was a player with on-ice tenacity and is one of the group’s best personalities off the ice. He has become known for motivating his teammates and being one of the best characters in the locker room. At the age of 33, he is an integral veteran piece for the Penguins, having played in 12 NHL seasons between the Penguins and Nashville Predators.

Hornqvist’s Success with the Penguins

Since joining the Pens, Hornqvist has been one of the most consistent goal scorers on the squad, producing an average of 22 goals each season. Most of his goals are nothing flashy or highlight-reel material as he has become known as a gritty net-front presence who will crash and screen the goalie every chance he gets. 

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It was his tenacity in front of the net that led to Hornqvist re-writing Penguins’ history books on Dec. 4, 2018 when he scored the fastest hat trick in team history. The first of his three goals in 2:47 was a rebound opportunity he capitalized on by standing square in front of then-Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov.

Aside from being an important point producer on the team, Hornqvist has also become a top playoff skater. In six postseasons, he has played in 66 games and accumulated 38 points, a few of which came in crucial situations. Fans won’t soon forget his overtime goal in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Washington Capitals in 2016, or his heroic Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 of the 2017 Final, against his former team, no less.

Patric Hornqvist Penguins
Patric Hornqvist with the Pittsburgh Penguins in January of 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While Hornqvist’s tenure in Pittsburgh is not over yet, and there is still more to give, the tremors of the move that brought him to the Penguins are still being felt today in 2020. Let’s take a look back at how acquiring Hornqvist has led to loads of success for the Penguins.

Hornqvist Brought to Pittsburgh

After the 2013-14 season, forward James Neal had run his course in Pittsburgh. Neal had become great friends with linemate Evgeni Malkin, posted a 40-goal season in 2011-12, and made his only All-Star Game that same year. After that season, a new contract that Neal signed worth $5 million in cap hit lasting six years was about to start.

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The contract had a modified no-trade clause that was set to kick in for the 2015-16 season. Aiming for extra cap space and a roster overhaul, Neal was moved before the clause could start making him harder to move. 

James Neal, former Nashville Predator (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In his first trade only 20 days after being hired as the Penguins’ new general manager, Jim Rutherford sent Neal to the Predators for Hornqvist and Nick Spalling. While we know what Hornqvist has done for the team, it’s Spalling we are going to focus on for a moment.

The Hornqvist Trade Still Paying Off

Spalling played in all 82 games of the 2014-15 regular season, and all five playoff games. After recording 9 goals and 18 assists for 27 points, he was packaged with Scott Harrington, Kasperi Kapanen, and some draft picks for Phil Kessel. While other pieces came with Kessel, he was the only one that saw NHL time with the Penguins.

The time Kessel spent in Pittsburgh was mostly successful. He was a huge part of the 2016 and 2017 Cup run, as well as being in the top three of team scoring every season. Before joining the Penguins, Kessel was more known for his scoring ability and being an iron man by never missing a game. While his iron man streak stayed intact in Pittsburgh, he became one of the Penguins best playmakers. Twice he would set personal records in assist numbers, picking up 47 assists in 2016-17, then 58 the following season.

Phil Kessel Penguins
Phil Kessel, former Pittsburgh Penguin (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As things began to soar between the Penguins and Kessel, it was his time to move on. The Penguins sent Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk and defensive prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

Before we go into detail on Galchenyuk, it should be noted that Joseph is one of the top defensive prospects currently boasted by the Penguins. The organization is looking forward to Joseph getting his chance in the NHL and becoming a highly skilled blueliner for years to come.

There was a lot of excitement for Galchenyuk to join the Penguins and have a bit of success alongside Malkin. It was quickly realized that Galchenyuk was not going to live up to his expectations. Dropping to the fourth line and on occasion being a healthy scratch for the team, the Penguins needed to move him and move him fast. 

Pittsburgh Penguins Alex Galchenyuk Evgeni Malkin
Former Pittsburgh Penguin Alex Galchenyuk is congratulated by Evgeni Malkin (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Rutherford found a taker on Galchenyuk in the Minnesota Wild; he was packaged with prospect Calen Addison and a first-round pick in return for Jason Zucker. And that is where we find ourselves today. Rutherford effectively turned Spalling into Zucker and found great success along the way.

Going forward, Zucker is going to be an exciting player for the Penguins. His scoring ability should mesh well with whoever he plays with between Malkin or Sidney Crosby. So far, Zucker has played in 15 games with the Penguins and racked up 12 points between 6 goals and 6 assists. Zucker has a contract that will last three more seasons and he could pan out to be one of the best acquisitions Rutherford has made as the Penguins’ general manager.

Jason Zucker Pittsburgh Penguins
Jason Zucker, Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

To be clear, Hornqvist is not the root of this trade tree. He is just a hefty branch that stems from the Penguins acquiring Johan Hedberg in 2001 for Jeff Norton. The way the move of acquiring Hornqvist has shaken out, it looks to be one of the most important moves made in team history.

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Without sending Neal to the Predators, the Penguins don’t get Hornqvist, and subsequently might not have gotten Kessel or Zucker. Without Kessel or Hornqvist it’s pretty doubtful that the Penguins become Stanley Cup Champions in 2016 and 2017.

Hornqvist Updates

Not even two weeks after this initial story was published, the trade tree involving Hornqvist sprouted a new branch. On Sept. 24, 2020 Hornqvist was sent to the Florida Panthers for Mike Matheson and Colton Sceviour. 

A trade that was met with backlash from fans, the Hornqvist deal originally looked like it could pay off for the Penguins. The team gained a younger, speedy defenseman in Matheson who has an ability to produce offence despite some defensive shortcomings. Meanwhile, the forward depth was going to be tested for every team during the 2020-21 NHL season, and Sceviour was one of the names the Penguins hoped would fill that role.

Mike Matheson Pittsburgh Penguins
Mike Matheson, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The main reasoning behind sending out Hornqvist lies in the team’s focus on getting younger an faster. If that’s all they set out to accomplish then perfect. Matheson is seven years younger and definitely carries faster foot speed. Hornqvist also carries the burden of being an injury prone player. With multiple concussions on his doctors list, it’s not ideal to keep an aging player around who has a knack for pain.

Since the trade, each player has had their own level of success. Is it time to pick a winner or loser of the trade?

Matheson with the Penguins

Starting with the Penguins additions, Matheson and Sceviour were one of the last deals made by Rutherford before he jumped ship. Sure, it’s a little poetic Rutherford’s tenure in Pittsburgh was virtually bookended with a Hornqvist deal, but this one was not well received.

Matheson makes $4.875 million against the salary cap and lasts until 2025-26. For a little context, Sidney Crosby’s contract expires the year prior. It was Matheson’s bloated contract, and the fact it sent away a fan favorite in Hornqvist that forced the critics’ hands.

Looking past the cap hit, however, Matheson hasn’t been totally awful in Pittsburgh. He and Cody Ceci were one of the team’s biggest surprises throughout the 2020-21 season as they molded into a steady second line pairing. Matheson himself in 44 games scored five goals, 11 assists, and 16 points. Not bad for a second line defenseman, who averaged 18:38 of ice-time and hit a career high +9 rating. Through the first 27 games of the 2021-22 season, he has scored three goals and nine assists for 12 points.

The Matheson experience is a roller coaster of emotions for Pens fans. He can go from blowing a defensive coverage and giving up an odd-man break to creating offensive pressure in the matter of one shift. He’s getting paid a lot of money but the Penguins have found a way to make it work.

Sceviour’s One Year in Pittsburgh

Sceviour on the other hand, played the last year of his contract with the Penguins and skipped town during free agency. With the Penguins, he played in 46 games collecting five goals and five assists for 10 points. He averaged 9:35 of ice time and not much else to speak of. He spent the whole season coasting around the taxi squad and fourth line. The Penguins didn’t re-sign him and sent him to free agency where he picked up a one-year, two-way contract with the Edmonton Oilers.

In 20 games with the Oilers, Sceviour has two goals and an assist for three points.

Hornqvist in Florida

Now to the main event; What has Hornqvist been up to since leaving the Penguins? He’s been a prominent veteran face with the Panthers. In 2020-21, he scored 14 goals and 18 assists for 32 points. Not bad for a 34-year-old who scored the same amount of points in his final season with the Penguins in fewer games. For the 2021-22 season in Florida, he has played in 29 games with four goals and nine assists for 13 points.

Patric Hornqvist Florida Panthers
Patric Hornqvist, Florida Panthers (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Picking a winner or loser of a trade is always difficult because both teams believe they received a net positive. For what it’s worth, both the Penguins and Panthers have excelled with what they received. The Penguins gained a quick, offensive, albeit expensive defender who fits the defensive scheme pretty well. The Panthers pulled in a veteran who can help lead his team full of young stars and gain notoriety as a team to be feared in a non-traditional hockey market.

A lot has changed with the Penguins on the ice and in the front office since Hornqvist arrived in 2014. Shockingly, even more has changed since his departure in in 2020. It’s safe to say both teams have found ways to utilize their new weapons and win games in an era of the league that has seen more speed bumps than ever before.

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