It was hard for Jim Rutherford to say goodbye to Patric Hornqvist when he decided to trade the right wing to the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
Hornqvist was the first player the general manager acquired when he took over the Pittsburgh Penguins and he lauded the winger for the way “he changed the culture” to pave the way for a pair of Stanley Cups.
It was a little bit of deja vu for Hornqvist when he finally got on the phone with Bill Zito to talk about the trade the Panthers and Penguins had in place. The new general manager wanted Hornqvist for all the same reasons Rutherford wanted him in 2014.
“He said the exact same thing: ‘We want you because of what you bring every single day,’” Hornqvist said. “’You get experience and you play hard, and you’ll play a big role for us on the ice, off the ice, too,’ and that’s exactly what I want. That made my choice so much easier. I’m excited to go down there and help the team win, and get to know everyone and get the season started.”
The Panthers, who have made the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoffs just twice since 2000, now have a two-time Stanley Cup champion to help lead them into a new era.
The trade for Hornqvist was Zito’s first major move as Florida’s new GM. Hired on Sept. 2, Zito dealt defenseman Mike Matheson and winger Colton Sceviour to Pittsburgh on Thursday for the 33-year-old Swede. Hornqvist is coming off his least productive season since 2013, scoring just 17 goals in 32 points in the regular season shortened by COVID-19, but the Panthers aren’t asking him to be much more than a competent bottom-six forward with a willingness to lead.
Even after Florida fell short in the qualifying round of the expanded Cup playoffs this year, Hornqvist is still raving about the Panthers’ promising young core, led by All-Star left wing Jonathan Huberdeau and center Aleksander Barkov, whom Hornqvist called “the most underrated player in the league.”
“They have a really good piece of core young players who are on the way up,” Hornqvist said. “What I can bring to the team is leadership and experience, and some playoff hockey, obviously. I think the fit is perfect for me and my family, and we’re super excited to go down to Florida and help the team to win.”
Hornqvist, who had to waive a no-trade clause for the deal to happen, said it was a tough decision to willingly leave the Penguins. Ultimately, he decided to let the trade happen because it was clear he was no longer wanted in Pittsburgh and instead was coveted by the Panthers.
The addition of Hornqvist follows some of the template set by former manager Dale Tallon last offseason. While flashy moves like signing superstar goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and hiring three-time Cup champion coach Joel Quenneville overshadowed moves on the margins, Florida also signed winger Brett Connolly, who won a title with the Washington Capitals, as part of a concerted effort to infuse the roster with postseason experience.
Unlike Connolly, Hornqvist was a steward of the Penguins’ culture, though. Florida is betting on him doing the same in Broward County.
“We know what we need to win,” Hornqvist said. “I think that’s the reason why the want me here.”