Patric Hornqvist improves the Pittsburgh Penguins. The “crazy” Swede brings a unique energy and passion which elevates the entire Penguins lineup. It’s time the Penguins recognized Hornqvist’s intrinsic value and moved to lock-up the winger before his contract expires after this season.
Conventional wisdom repeated by the team and friendly media is first-year professional Zach Aston-Reese will soon replace Hornqvist in the Penguins lineup. The Penguins and fans are forgiven for following the same path which brought Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel; Younger, faster, cheaper.
The easy logic stipulates young players like Aston-Reese are less expensive, which allows resources to be allocated elsewhere.
Conventional wisdom, in this case, is wrong.
First, there isn’t a rule which prevents the Penguins from employing both Hornqvist and Aston-Reese. Second, the difference in the Penguins compete level and line-up balance this season with and without Hornqvist is palpable.
There also isn’t a better player in front of the net, on the power play or at five-on-five, than Hornqvist.
It is a unique brand of leadership and part of team fabric which is nearly impossible to replace. Ask the Chicago Blackhawks, who thought they could replace Patrick Sharp with younger, faster, cheaper.
Sometimes, the equation is different on paper than real-life results; intangibles can’t be quantified.
Hornqvist has scored more than 20 goals in every full NHL season of his career. (He scored only four goals in 24 games during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season). Hornqvist has also been remarkably durable for a rugged winger. He played all 82 games of the 2015-16 season and 70 games last season. Injuries haven’t been a significant issue.
On a team which once could be physically intimidated, or at least unraveled with physical tactics, Hornqvist relishes the physical element of hockey. It brings a smile to his face. That joy of the physical toll and contagious bravery is what separates Hornqvist.
Younger, faster, cheaper isn’t always better. Not every veteran should be pushed aside. To marginalize Hornqvist’s intangibles would be to fail to understand how the Penguins have moved from wilting failure to gritty champions.
Minutes after he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal, tributes to Hornqvist, 30, from teammates flowed like beer from the Cup.
The most colorful came from defenseman Ian Cole, who called Hornqvist the “craziest son of a … gun. In the best way, possible”. Most players who spoke of Hornqvist used the word “crazy”, at least once.
Hornqvist was at the center of the Penguins rebirth. The moment this Penguins team came together was their come-from-behind win on Dec. 31, 2015, in Detroit. The team, which never rallied for a victory under its previous head coach, roared back for an emotional holiday win on the road against the Red Wings.
Hornqvist stood in the center of the locker room and conducted postgame interviews with a newly earned black eye. He seemed to enjoy the trophy of his hard work in the corners, battles in front of the net, and the results of his ability to drive opponents crazy while heartening his team.
Every great team has a little personality. Characters, not just character. And … a bit of crazy. Hornqvist is that guy for the Penguins.
Contract Value? Oshie …
Admittedly, signing a player is a two-way street. Hometown discounts are more often chatter for fans and wishful thinking.
Simmonds, 29, is another physical winger who is part of the beating heart of his team. The Philadelphia Flyers handed Simmonds a six-year contract four years ago, a deal which pays him just shy of $4 million annually. Koivu, 34, is a center who just signed a two-year, $11 million deal.
Perhaps the best comparison would be T.J. Oshie. Oshie, 30, re-upped with the Washington Capitals for eight years at an average of $5.75 million. Over the past four years, two with the St. Louis Blues and the last two seasons with the Capitals, Oshie has 99 goals. Over the same period, Hornqvist has 90 goals, and … a Stanley Cup winning goal.
A five or six-year deal worth between $5 million and $5.5 million seems both plausible and doable, from the Penguins standpoint. Oshie is more versatile than Hornqvist, and generally produces about 10 more points per season, so Hornqvist should be worth slightly less.
Can’t Keep Everyone
The Penguins currently have one of the most expensive blue lines in the NHL. Bryan Rust is due for a contract after this season. In two years, Jake Guentzel will be due for a contract.
Otherwise, the Penguins core is locked up for several or more years. Hornqvist’s current contract pays him $4.25 million. An extra million in annual value won’t break the bank.
Hard choices mean finding more defensemen like Matt Hunwick, who make less than $2.5 million but provide good value, and less defensemen like Brian Dumoulin or Olli Maatta, who consume over $4 million apiece.
Hard choices mean putting a team together, not just on paper, but one which keeps the Stanley Cup character. The Blackhawks’ effort to reunite the band this season, by reacquiring Sharp and Brandon Saad, is a prime example of a team which made the right moves on paper — trading away core pieces Sharp and Saad because of cap considerations — but which failed to keep the winning chemistry in the aftermath.
To paraphrase Billy Joel, you may be right, he may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for. Not everything in hockey makes perfect sense. Anything less than extending Patric Hornqvist’s tenure with the Penguins would be the same Blackhawks mistake–which they are trying to correct.
So, sign Hornqvist and worry about 2020 in 2019.