It is time for the Pittsburgh Penguins to recognize heart and gritty goal scoring is in short supply and they cannot afford to lose any more of it. It is time to secure one of the backbones of the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. The Penguins should aggressively pursue a new, long-term Patric Hornqvist contract.
Six years, $33 million. Sign it. Of course, the Penguins should try to go lower, perhaps in the $5 million range, but in this case, the player has the advantage. The contract could go as high as $6 million. And Hornqvist, 30, is probably worth it. Though a full $6 million annual value could give the Penguins cause to lessen the years.
This season, Hornqvist has played on each of the Penguins top three lines. He’s been shuffled up and down the lineup, not because he has struggled, but because he is able to provide offense to stagnate lines.
Hornqvist’s and Conor Sheary’s inclusion besides third center Riley Sheahan last month provided some third line scoring for the first time this season. Hornqvist was the instigator of that production.
Hornqvist is also a respected instigator in front of the net. The crazy Viking is a warrior in the dirty areas, nor is he prone to cheap shots. He engages in battles for territory, not questionable hits, which allows him to also give it back without nitpicking from officials.
Hornqvist is the only Penguins net-front presence and has 11 goals in 31 games. He’s on pace for 29 tallies.
Patric Hornqvist Contract
Similar players in terms of production and style have been paid a range of $4.6 million to $6 million. The New York Rangers inked Chris Kreider, 26, to a four year, $18.5 million deal. Kreider had 28 goals and 53 points last season, playing a similar gritty game.
On the top end, the Columbus Blue Jackets last season signed Brandon Saad, 25, to a six-year, $36 million deal. Saad had 24 goals and 53 points.
Hornqvist only had 21 goals and 43 points last season. Perhaps the Penguins could leverage Hornqvist’s age and point total to limit the contract. However, the coming economic shift will have GM’s salivating.
Salary Cap Spike
Here’s a little secret, the NHL salary cap will soon skyrocket. The NHL already announced it is increasing to at least $78 million, perhaps up to $82 million next season. The success of the Vegas Knights and the emergence of the Toronto Maple Leafs will put upward pressure on revenues.
Now for the big increases: Seattle expansion and relocation. Seattle will post $650 million to the league for the privilege of a team. Cha-ching. Then, a money-losing team will bolt to Quebec City soon. Another money-losing team could soon bolt to Houston, too. Teams which lose money put downward pressure on the salary cap by depressing revenues.
Within a few years, the NHL salary cap could push $90 million because of the market expansion and turnover.
Objections to signing Hornqvist are oft repeated, logical but largely incorrect.
The main objection to signing Hornqvist is his physical style cannot be maintained for much longer. Two quick examples of net-front battlers who played well into their mid-30’s are Chris Kunitz and Johan Franzen, of the Detroit Red Wings.
Kunitz is still contributing at 38 years old. As a 35-year-old, Franzen had 22 points (7g, 15a) in 33 games in 2014-15 before concussions ended his career. Neither was in physical shape equal to Patric Hornqvist nor has Hornqvist suffered from concussions.
Hornqvist has been remarkably durable. He has played in at least 85% of games in all but two of his eight previous seasons.
Zac Aston-Reese and Daniel Sprong
Don’t pay Hornqvist when Zac Aston-Reese is ready to take his place, the other objection states. And, the Penguins will soon need room for Daniel Sprong, too.
In a town in which prospects are treated like gold because the long-suffering baseball fans have had little else for most of two generations, it’s forgivable to cling to the potential of youngsters. However, it is a large leap of faith to assume Aston-Reese can be a consistent 25 goal scorer who provides the same heart and net-front presence.
Certainly, Aston-Reese is a couple or more years away. Currently, Aston-Reese has just three goals in 24 AHL games. In 10 AHL games last season, Aston-Reese also had three goals.
Sprong will have to displace one of the talented wingers in the Penguins top-6. His potential presence certainly has nothing to do with the role filled by Hornqvist.
Earlier this season, Pittsburgh Hockey Now reached out to involved parties and was told talks were expected “at some point in the future,” but no timetable was set. The inferred tone was casual.
Later, Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford told beat writers that he doesn’t like to negotiate in season.
If the Penguins wait too long, another team will happily make Hornqvist a richer man. And the Penguins would be poorer for it.
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