Who Wins the Hornqvist-Matheson Trade?

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Florida gets a battle-scarred vet, Pittsburgh takes a chance on a struggling defenseman.

Michael Matheson. Photo by Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins have swung another deal, but will it pan out for the franchise? GM Jim Rutherford has never been afraid to move players and in his latest swap, he has sent veteran right winger Patric Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers in exchange for defenseman Michael Matheson and utility forward Colton Sceviour.

Rutherford has been attempting to extend Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup window as much as he can while all-world centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still playing at an elite level, but the recent results have been diminishing returns: the Penguins were swept in the first round of the 2019 playoffs by the Islanders, then knocked out of the qualifying round this season by the lowly Habs.

Many of Rutherford’s recent moves have involved trading away draft picks and young players, but this deal sees the veteran Hornqvist changing addresses.

In Hornqvist, the Panthers get a sturdy net-front presence who is very tough to battle against in the corners. The right winger has two Cup rings from his tenure in Pittsburgh, but he has battled injuries in recent years and hasn’t played a full 82-game schedule since 2015-16.

If the hardened Swede can stay healthy, he’ll bring a very nice dimension to Florida, where the Panthers already have ace producers such as Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Hornqvist’s acquisition also makes it very hard to picture Florida re-signing pending unrestricted free agents Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov. It does, however, bring in some more internal competition for rookie hopefuls Grigori Denisenko and Owen Tippett. Hornqvist’s contract runs for another three seasons with a cap hit of $5.3 million.

“Patric brings a level of competition to our club,” said GM Bill Zito. “He is a talented veteran presence who plays with an edge and we look forward to what he can add to our group.”

This also marks the first trade made by Zito, who just recently took over as GM of the Panthers.

There is risk in the deal for Florida, but the Penguins have even more to lose. Matheson, the main cog on Pittsburgh’s end, was a healthy scratch for half of Florida’s four qualifying round games (a series lost to the Islanders) and averaged a little more than 13 minutes of ice time in the games he did play. Matheson wasn’t trusted with any defensive zone faceoffs in those contests, yet still had some of the poorest possession numbers on the team. Turnovers were a problem as well.

Having said that, the hope in Pittsburgh is obviously that a change of scenery would do Matheson well. After all, he is a mobile puckmover with size who plays with an edge. The other caveat however is Matheson’s contract: it runs until the summer of 2026 with a cap hit of nearly $4.9 million. For a Penguins team already in a tight spot cap-wise, he’s not a bargain.

Pittsburgh currently has approximately $5 million in cap space and Rutherford still needs to sign RFA goalies Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry (or trade one) and either re-sign defenseman Justin Schultz or find his replacement. There have also been rumblings that star blueliner Kris Letang doesn’t see himself being kept around, which would free up cap space – but blow a massive hole in the team’s core.

In Sceviour, the Penguins get a defensive role player who can chip in on the penalty-kill but won’t provide any offense. At the least, he has a very manageable $1.2 million cap hit with just one year left until unrestricted free agency.

All in all, there is risk in this trade for both franchises. Pittsburgh certainly has more to lose and if judging the deal on whether the Penguins look like a tougher playoff out now than they did yesterday, this is not a winner for them.