May 13, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) makes a save against Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal (18) during the third period in game seven of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Rangers won the game 2-1 and took the series 4 games to 3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Are The Pittsburgh Penguins Worse Off After Trading James Neal?

As I was studying in New Zealand, it was painful not to be able to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was even worse hearing about a 3-1 series lead and then a three-game debacle.

As soon as I saw the score “New York Rangers 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1, Final” on my cell phone, I knew BIG changes were coming. Move forward to today, and the Penguins have a new general manager, new head coach, and one of their stars was traded just before the NHL Draft.

It looks like I have to put my James Neal jersey next to the Jordan Staal jersey in my closet. Upon hearing about the trade, I will say that I was not a fan whatsoever.

The 26-year-old Neal, who is entering his prime, will be taking his talents to Nashville. Neal missed 23 games this past season and suffered through concussion problems, yet he was still third on the Penguins in goals (27), fourth in points (61), fourth in plus/minus (+15), and fifth in assists (34).

Neal had 238 shots on goal, finishing second to Sidney Crosby, who had 259. When I am at the Pens games, I constantly hear fans screaming to “shoot the puck!!”

Neal shoots the puck, but not for the Penguins anymore. I like having players who are aggressive on offense and willing to hit.

Yes, I’m sure his production is higher because he is on a line with Evgeni Malkin. But who cares? The Neal-Malkin-Jussi Jokinen line was one of the NHL’s best forces when healthy, and now Geno is left as the lone survivor.

So the Pens dumped Neal to free up salary space? Neal’s cap hit was only $5 million, which isn’t too bad for a former 40-goal scorer. He probably would have scored 40 goals last season, had he not been injured. The Penguins gave Kris Letang a $7.5 million per year deal. I would have attempted to trade Letang for some more offensive weapons.

So who did the Penguins receive in exchange for Neal?

Patric Hornqvist, 28, will get the chance to play with Crosby and Malkin, and everyone hopes he can score 30 goals like he did in the 2009-10 season. Hornqvist’s cap hit is $4.75 million, which is basically the same as Neal’s.

Center Nick Spaling, a restricted free agent, will add some depth, likely being a fourth-line center; he had a career-best 13 goals last season. The Predators certainly got the best hockey player in this trade.

Mar 10, 2014; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) skates past Nashville Predators right wing Patric Hornqvist (27) in the third period at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Predators defeated the Senators 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve also heard that this move was to improve the Pens’ character. Neal had taken some bad penalties and received a few suspensions, but he only recorded 55 penalty minutes this past season.  I’m not buying that claim, but I’m not one of the players in the lockerroom.

Many of my friends believe that this was a good move for Pittsburgh, but I simply disagree. Time will tell how this trade turns out.

For the Pens, it is time to let the youth get their chance. Defensemen Simon Despres, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, Philip Samuelsson, and Derrick Pouliot should all be given the opportunity to be key players for Pittsburgh this upcoming season.

Tags: James Neal Patric Hornqvist Pittsburgh Penguins

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