PITTSBURGH – When the dust finally settled on the trade that brought Patric Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers, feelings of relief and excitement washed over the two-time Stanley Cup champion.
It’s quite understandable after a somewhat crazy 48 hours in which news of the deal leaked a bit prematurely, before anything had been finalized or any players had been made aware of the situation.
As Hornqvist put it, finding out that his now-former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, was in the process of trading him to Florida, was something that he and his family found “a little blindsiding.”
“When you know you have a no-trade [clause], you don’t think this kind of question is going to come up, and when it comes up, I really took my time to go through every scenario,” Hornqvist said during a Zoom call on Friday.
Having the decision ultimately in his hands, it wasn’t easy for Hornqvist to envision leaving Pittsburgh.
When he and his wife Malin arrived in the Steel City during the summer of 2014, their youngest daughter Isabella was only four months old. It took a little time, but Western Pennsylvania became home to the Hornqvists.
In 2018 they welcomed daughter number two, Vendela, to the clan, the Penguins had just won back-to-back championships and signed Hornqvist to a new, 5-year deal worth $26.5 million, so to say the family was becoming rooted in the 'Burgh would be an understatement.
That’s why finding out about Thursday’s trade came as such a shock.
“As a family man, my family all started there,” Hornqvist explained. “All my family life is in Pittsburgh. I like the city, I like the fans, but when they decided they didn’t want me, it was an easy choice to go down to Florida and try to win the Cup there.”
Part of what sold Hornqvist on moving his family to Florida and joining the Panthers was the team’s new general manager, Bill Zito.
During an important discussion between the two earlier this week, Zito did a great job selling Hornqvist on what the Panthers are building and where he can fit in. But what made a big difference, according to Hornqvist, was the good vibe he got from the man that is now his new boss.
“When I talked to him, I really got a great feeling,” Hornqvist said of Zito. “He seems like a really good GM, and a good person. He told me, ‘We want you because of what you bring every single day; you have experience and you play hard. You’ve got to play a big role for us, not just on the ice, off the ice too.’ That’s exactly what I want. They made my choice so much easier.”
Arriving in Florida after 12 seasons in the league, 90 playoff games and a pair of Stanley Cups, it’s understandable why the ‘veteran leader’ label would be stamped on Hornqvist.
With the Penguins, Hornqvist was someone who motivated his teammates by how hard he worked on the ice and his passion and engagement off the ice. He is fully aware there is a certain expectation that comes with the reputation of being a point-producing emotional leader.
It’s something Hornqvist takes very seriously.
“You have to take it step-by-step,” he said. “You have to know all the players first, and then see what your role is going to be, and move from there.”
It will be interesting to see where Hornqvist slots into the Panthers forward ranks once training camp arrives in a couple of months.
Regardless of what happens with pending free agents Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, Hornqvist could find himself with a prominent spot on a line with one (or both) of Florida’s elite young forwards, Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Playing in Pittsburgh for six years, Hornqvist has ample experience skating with superstars, often sharing the ice with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
He is also well aware of what the makeup of a title contending team looks like, because, well, duh. Penguins. Playoffs. Stanley Cups. It’s expected.
Now make no mistake, the Panthers have a foundation in place for what could be a very successful run over the next decade-plus, but Zito and Florida head coach Joel Quenneville have their work cut out for them. With the planting of a few more seeds and the right amount of water, Hornqvist has firsthand knowledge of what his new team could blossom into.
“I’m super excited for this opportunity,” he said with a smile. "I think they have a great group of young core players, and Barkov is probably the most underrated player in the league.
“With the coach we have, he knows what we need to win, and I think that’s the reason why they want me there.”
Well, a little confidence never hurt anybody either, amirite?