Jim Rutherford has made his first major trade as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins by sending top-six winger James Neal to the Nashville Predators in exchange for two players.
Official: Penguins trade James Neal to Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.—
Hockey Central (@SNHockeyCentral) June 28, 2014
FYI there was no money retained in the Pitt-Nashville deal.—
Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) June 28, 2014
Trading Neal frees up valuable salary cap space for the Penguins. They have $14,630,833 in cap space with just 14 players signed for next season, per CapGeek. Rutherford needs as much cap flexibility as possible to re-sign any number of his 14 free agents, a group that includes veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, as well as forwards Lee Stempniak, Marcel Goc and Jussi Jokinen.
One of Pittsburgh’s most glaring weaknesses last season was its lack of depth, specifically on the third and fourth lines. The Penguins now have more cap space to re-sign their own guys and/or acquire players from outside of the organization. Patric Hornqvist, who tallied 53 points in 2013-14, likely will fill Neal’s spot on the second line alongside elite center Evgeni Malkin.
Acquiring a 40-goal scorer such as Neal is a huge offensive upgrade for the Predators. They finished 18th in goals scored last season and haven’t had a 30-goal scorer since 2009-10. Newly hired head coach Peter Laviolette likes to play a high-scoring, fast-paced style of hockey, and Neal is the type of winger who fits into that system perfectly. He set a career high of 40 goals scored in 2011-12, and tallied 27 goals in just 59 games last season.
Neal also is signed for the next four seasons at a team-friendly cap hit of $5 million, so Nashville isn’t in any danger of losing him in the near future.