With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching, and for Ian Cole and Patric Hornqvist, potential free agency approaching after the season, I wanted to take a look at two players in very similar situations and try to examine the difference in the Pittsburgh Penguin philosophy in handling them both.
Patric Hornqvist is 31 years-old and was the Nashville Predators 7th round draft pick in 2005. His sheer determination and will power helped him not only carve a roster spot out in Music City, but he flourished, scoring 30 goals in his first full season in Nashville in 2009-10. In fact, despite his low draft status, Hornqvist has scored more than 20 goals in seven of his eight season.
With 16 this year so far, the rugged power forward is on his way to eight out of nine rather handily.
Hornqvist was a fan favorite in Nashville and is also the same here in Pittsburgh ever since coming over in the James Neal trade before the 2014-15 campaign.
Ian Cole was drafted in 2007 by the St. Louis Blues in the first round. The Michigan-born 28 year-old defenseman has 17 career goals and 70 career assists. Cole came to the Penguins during the 2014-15 season in exchange for Robert Bortuzzo. His five goals and 21 assists last year were both career highs and Cole is looked at as a character guy who will sacrifice his body for the good of the team.
Exhibit A from earlier this season:
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) October 8, 2017
He missed ten days. That’s it.
I don’t know about you, but a sinus infection puts me down for ten days.
Like Cole, Hornqvist isn’t afraid to use his body and risk his well-being to make things happen. Hornqvist is often in front of the net being abused by opposing goalies and defenseman alike.
His results speak volumes.
THE @PENGUINS ARE BACK-TO-BACK STANLEY CUP CHAMPS!
PATRIC HORNQVIST'S GAME WINNING GOAL IS EVEN BETTER W/TITANIC MUSIC!
BACK 🏆🏆 BACK pic.twitter.com/1QJr9zcwfb
— 🏀🚢🎶TITANIC HOOPS🏀🚢🎶 (@TitanicHoops) June 12, 2017
But there is a slight difference in the way the organization have viewed the two warriors this season.
On Hornqvist’ side, General Manager Jim Rutherford has come out in recent interviews proclaiming that he would be open to discussion to an extension during the season. This is something he normally does not do, with the loss of Chris Kunitz and his presence after last year, losing Hornqvist this off-season would really negate the Penguins net front presence and make the jobs of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin that much harder.
His Cap salary this season is $4.25 million and you can be assured a lot of teams would break out the check book for No. 72 much in the way that Nashville did with Nick Bonino this past offseason.
I would bet the house the Penguins get a deal done with the guy who is a vital part of their offensive engine.
Here is where it gets tricky.
For Ian Cole’s side of things, he too could be an attractive free agent for anyone looking to upgrade their defensive Top-4. A team like the Ottawa Senators or the New York Rangers could easily come calling and give Cole a very sizable raise from his $2.1 million salary this season. It would make too much sense for the Penguins to get out in front here as well and lock him up.
But on that front, there hasn’t been any movement.
In fact, Cole has often times found himself a healthy scratch this season. Most recently Cole sat in the press box in favor of Matt Hunwick, and off-season pick up who a number of times has been passive/soft in front of his own net.
Cole was rumored to be on the trading block back in the fall when the Penguins were struggling mightily. Also rumors that he and Head Coach Mike Sullivan made the press in a scene that is normally reserved for Toronto than it is Pittsburgh.
Even now with the trade deadline approaching fast and Rutherford has been on record saying that a third-line center is still high on the wish list, even with the emergence of a more-than-steady Riley Sheahan. Cole’s name may very well come up in trade talks to get such a piece. Many clubs would look at a two-time champion, willing to play hard and put it all on the line.
A guy who can fill a top-four defensive pairing and not hinder your club.
Another factor against Cole is the arrival of Jamie Oleksiak. The huge defenseman, who came over from Dallas, has been every bit the successful reclamation project that one Justin Schultz was a year ago. His play too, could spell Cole’s departure from Pittsburgh long before it probably should happen.
Does defensive assistant coach Sergei Gonchar mean to the Penguins defense what Ray Searage used to mean to the Pirate pitchers? Does he find the coal in the heap and help turn them to diamonds?
It’s a question that could determine Cole’s future on this team.
So with the trade deadline three weeks from today, it will be an interesting scenario that will play out. And one worth keeping an eye on. If you want my opinion, you try to sign both, not just Hornqvist.
But I’m the guy writing an opinion piece — not handing out the contracts.
Go to our Twitter page and vote in my poll about what YOU would like to see the Penguins do with two vital heartbeats of a back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion.
Thanks for reading!