Entering the 2018 offseason, the Penguins are facing very little in the way of unrestricted free agents. There are a handful of players heading to restricted free agency, but the Penguins have a bit more say when it comes to whether those guys stay or leave. The team’s only unrestricted free agent at the moment is Carter Rowney, and he’s not expected to return.
There could have been a second player heading to unrestricted free agency, but Jim Rutherford stepped in to make sure that didn’t happen by re-signing forward Patric Hornqvist to a five-year contract extension in late February. Hornqvist’s new deal carries a $5.3 million cap hit and lasts through the 2022-2023 season. The deal also includes a no trade clause for the first three years, then transitions to a modified NTC beginning in year four.
With the Swede now at 31-years-old, Hornqvist’s new contract does carry some risks, but those are outweighed by what he brings to the table when he’s on the ice.
Since coming over from the Nashville Predators in the summer of 2015, Hornqvist has more than proven his worth to the team, getting rewarded for his production with a shiny, new contract. As a major factor in the team’s back-to-back Stanley Cup runs, Hornqvist has scored 97 goals in a Penguins uniform with 40 of those coming on the power play. He’s added an additional 19 playoff goals as well.
And who could forget this...
While Hornqvist’s numbers may not light up the box score, there’s much more to his game that people outside of Pittsburgh don’t always take notice to. As a guy never afraid to get a little dirty, Hornqvist is constantly working when he is on the ice — including the areas where other players aren’t willing to go. He’s become a nightmare for defenses and goalies alike with his tenacious style of play.
Whether it’s during even-strength or on the power play, Hornqvist plays his game and is a menace to opposing teams. When goalies see #72 standing in front of them, they know their job is about to get a little more difficult.
When the Hornqvist extension was announced, many expressed their displeasure with the signing for various reasons. One major reason was his age (Hornqvist will turn 32 next season and be 36 when the deal expires), and that’s a fair point to argue, especially considering how much his ruggedness probably affects his body.
His injury history may also be a slight cause for concern going forward — another symptom is his style. Over the past two seasons, Hornqvist has missed a combined 24 regular season games and additional eight in the playoffs. Though during the 2015-2016 season, Hornqvist played in all 82 regular season games and all 24 playoff games.
Many people from the advanced stats community also voiced their displeasure with the deal citing Hornqvist’s underlying numbers which, like his box score statistics, may not blow you away. For the fans who applauded the deal, this argument made little sense because Hornqvist’s value to the team goes beyond any particular statistic. Also, his underlying numbers are not as bad as some make it out to be.
Based on this past season, Hornqvist logged a Corsi For percentage of 53.41, better than both Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Adding to his strong Corsi numbers, he also had a 1.37 points per 60 tally and a 16.97 Corsi For per 60, which lead the team.
A majority of the time Hornqvist was one the ice, he was skating alongside either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, which meant he was playing in a top-six role — something that’s to be expected from him. As part of a line with either Crosby or Malkin, his Corsi For and relative Corsi For percentages shoot even higher.
What drags his overall numbers down was his play when Phil Kessel was on the other wing with Malkin at center. Overall, that line struggled when on the ice together, and as a result, did not see much playing time.
Simply put, when Patric Hornqvist is on the ice, the Penguins are carrying the majority of the play. That’s a good thing.
Every player is unique, but there are always other players in the league you can use as a comparable. For the sake of evaluating Hornqvist and his contract, we will use Evander Kane and James van Riemsdyk as a comparison. All three guys play a power forward style and aren’t afraid to go to the dirty areas if necessary. All three also carry good possession metrics — which add to their value.
We will also be utilizing this free agent contract predictor, designed by Matt Cane, to project contracts and salaries.
Kane was dealt to the Sharks at the trade deadline by the Buffalo Sabres and played pretty well in San Jose. In 17 regular season games, he potted nine goals and contributed 14 points. For the entire regular season, he scored 29 goals in 79 games, equaling Hornqvist’s total in nine more games. He scored an additional four goals in the playoffs.
San Jose liked what they saw and rewarded Kane with a seven-year contract with an annual cap hit of $7 million — a full $1.7 million more than Hornqvist. Kane does have the age advantage at just 26, but he’ll still be 32 by the time the deal expires. The $7 million number projects about dead on to what Matt Cane projected from his model, but the seven years is three more than Cane figured it would be. Kane has only hit the 30-goal plateau once in his career, and his off-ice issues makes you wonder if seven years is worth the risk.
From an advanced stats perspective, Kane logged a Corsi For percentage of 50.56, significantly lower than Hornqvist. Kane’s P/60 is slightly higher as well as his CF/60.
James van Riemsdyk
The 29-year-old American winger just completed a six-year deal and is in the market for a new contract. He could very likely be on his way out of Toronto given what it will probably cost to keep him, and the Maple Leafs need as much space as possible to sign guys long term coming off their entry-level contracts.
This season, van Riemsdyk scored a career-high 36 goals in 81 games and added another three in the playoffs. He plays a similar style to Hornqvist and is willing to go to the dirty areas to get his work done. He sets up shop in front of the goalie on the power play — much like Hornqvist does — and can be a headache for the opposition.
From an advanced stats perspective, van Riemsdyk is a very solid player, and his numbers are better than Hornqvist’s almost across the board. He’s a top-six player, spending most of his ice time on a line with Tyler Bozak and one of either Mitch Marner or Connor Brown — all of which are good possession guys. Much like Hornqvist, when van Riemsdyk is on the ice, his team generally has the puck.
From a contract perspective, Matt Cane has van Riemsdyk projected at a three-year deal worth around $5.3 million per season. At 29, van Riemsdyk is only two years younger than Hornqvist and will likely be looking for his last big contract as an NHL player. This means that three-year projected length could easily rise to five years or more depending on what the player is looking for. Coming off a career year for goal scoring will also help his case, and the AAV could rise as well — making him more expensive than Hornqvist.
Jim Rutherford made re-signing Hornqvist a priority, and he wasn’t shy about saying so. It was such a priority to him, that he didn’t even give Hornqvist a chance to reach free agency. Instead, he made a rare in-season extension to ensure he stayed right here in Pittsburgh.
Knowing what Hornqvist means to the way the Penguins play under Mike Sullivan, this is a deal that makes sense both from a hockey perspective and a business perspective. It also didn’t hurt that Hornqvist took a little home town discount to save the team some money. It’s unfortunate Matt Cane couldn’t include a projected number for Hornqvist, because it would have been interesting to see how much he was worth on the open market.
There are reasons to be wary of the Hornqvist contract, considering age and injury history, but when compared to players like Evander Kane and James van Riemsdyk, it may turn out to be a bargain. We already know Kane will be getting more money than Hornqvist, and unless van Riemsdyk signs for exactly what he’s projected at, then it’s likely he’ll be a larger cap hit as well.
For two guys who almost play the exact same style as Hornqvist, and score at roughly the same rate, is that extra money really worth it in the long run? Only time will tell. For right now, it sure looks like the Penguins have a steal with the new Hornqvist contract. Just a little more Jim Rutherford magic.