During the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, new Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford made his first big move trading winger James Neal to Nashville for wingers Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. The acquisition of Hornqvist made sense but the Penguins picking up Spaling instead of a draft pick or swapping places in the first round was a bit curious.
It was clear Rutherford didn't think he had much choice but to take Spaling because of the terrible depth at forward within the organization.
Curiosity struck again upon the team's announcement of their 2-year, $4.4 million deal with Spaling.
The $700,000 per season increase in salary wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement for a winger heading into his age 26 season and coming off careers highs in goals (13) and assists (19) in 71 games. He was likely a potential second or third line left wing going into training camp.
During training camp, it was clear Head Coach Mike Johnston really liked the line combination of center Brandon Sutter between wingers Steve Downie and Beau Bennett. Unfortunately, the trio have been a line combination for 3.11% of the team's even-strength shifts.
After the Penguins played their 41st game of the season last night in Montreal, Spaling has basically played to expectations with 6 goals and 11 assists. His biggest asset is being healthy and ability to play any forward position, which has come to use this season due to all the injuries and illness that ravaged the team in December.
If you look at the usage for the other line combinations to this point in the season using leftwinglock.com and the arrival of David Perron, it doesn't look like Spaling has much choice but to be on the fourth line with Marcel Goc and Evgeni Malkin's favorite teammate, Craig Adams.
Spaling isn't going to unseat Chris Kunitz on the left wing with Sidney Crosby and Perron, unlikely to score enough to remove Blake Comeau with Malkin and Hornqvist, and we know about the third line with Sutter, Bennett and Downie.
After what we saw the last two years on the fourth line, it is safe to say the team will be quite happy with Spaling and Goc as 2/3 of a good fourth line. If the team gets Pascal Dupuis back from the blood clot, it would most certainly put the team in a position to feel comfortable putting their fourth line on the ice.
Last year, Penguins ranked 12th in faceoffs at 51% but they've dropped to 16th at 49.4% this season. Malkin has taken a big dive going from 48.8% last year to 41.9% this season. On the power play, Crosby has dropped from 60.4% to 54.2% this season.
One of the key faceoff plays over the last few years for both Crosby and Malkin was having a winger lined up behind them to setup for a slap shot but this year, we've haven't seen it as much.
Offense on the Mend
The Penguins are thought to be one of the top goal scoring teams in the NHL and any time you've got Crosby and Malkin, that's a fair assessment to make, though due to their apocalyptic December run of injuries and illness, they've dropped down the rankings.
Total Goals: 120 (11th)
5on5 Goals: 80 (12th)
According to WarOnIce, Penguins are 16th in generating on-ice scoring chances per 60 with 25.8. Last season, they were 26th with 24.7 chances per 60.
All Star Game
NHL announced the rosters for the All Star Game in Columbus on Saturday and no surprise Crosby and Malkin were named but in a bit of a surprise Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make it with his 92.6 save percentage over Detroit's Jimmy Howard (92%) and Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky (91.4%) or his league leading 6 shutouts.
After the game on Saturday against Montreal, Fleury said he was a little disappointed to be not going but he shouldn't be too down as he should be the next guy up and has a good chance of attending the festivities after Howard's groin injury.
Not sure how much fans care about the game anymore considering Latvia was able to take over the ballot box by virtually stuffing it and voting Buffalo's center Zemgus Girgensons as a starter. Most of America will be asking, 'who?'