The Pittsburgh Penguins aren't off to the start they had hoped for after clinching a second consecutive Stanley Cup - and an argument can be made as to why they're struggling to maintain an average record through the first quarter plus of the season.
With a 13-10-3 record, the Penguins have 29 points in 26 games, which is just north of a .500 record. They have a loose grip on the first wild card spot, but could just as easily be out of a playoff spot within a week.
Joe Starkey of the Post-Gazette opines that the biggest issue plaguing the team is the lack of proper replacements for key character players that departed the team in the offseason.
This list includes the likes of Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, and Matt Cullen. Starkey states that their replacements have been relatively generic players, who, despite being good hockey players, don't bring the same on-ice and off-ice presence that the aforementioned players did.
This brings the discussion to Patric Hornqvist. There are few players as intense in the NHL as he is, or as clutch - as proven by his Cup-winning goal against the Nashville Predators.
“He’s definitely the most intense guy I’ve ever played with," Matt Cullen said about his former teammate.
Hornqvist currently has a very respectable 8 goals and 7 assists in 22 games. He's on pace for approximately 56 points in 82 games, which would be the best of his career. He evidently won't reach that mark as he has already missed a few games due to injury. But nevertheless, his pace is quite impressive this season.
And the timing couldn't come any better for him - he's set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He makes $4.75 million against the cap on his current contract, and could command closer to the $6 million on the open market, which will cause a lot of headaches for the cap-strapped Pens.
Jim Rutherford claims that it is "uncharacteristic of him" to sign players in the middle of the season, but Starkey firmly states that he has to make Hornqvist one of the few exceptions to the rule, and lock him up now. Despite the fact that Hornqvist is nearly 31 years old, his intensity and passion for the game aren't easily replaced, and with the amount of character they shed in the offseason, they can't afford to lose more if they want to remain perennial contenders in the NHL.
What do you think? How important is Hornqvist to the Penguins in your opinion?