Opponents have a pretty good idea of where to find Patric Hornqvist when he’s on the ice.
The 26-year-old right wing has built a reputation as someone who is willing and able to get to the front of the net. Again. And again.
In a different sense, the Nashville Predators made sure Tuesday that he won’t go anywhere anytime soon. Hornqvist signed a five-year $21.25 million contract that will keep him with the franchise through the 2017-18 season. The deal will pay him $4.25 million per season.
“When I got this chance I couldn’t let it slip,” Hornqvist said. “I told my agent right away that I want to stay here if they will commit to a longer deal. All of the sudden we are here, and I’m the most happy guy in here.”
Hornqvist earned $3.25 million in salary during the 2012-13 season, the last on a three-year deal he signed following the expiration of his entry-level contract.
He would have become a restricted free agent this offseason and was eligible for unrestricted free agency a year from now. A day earlier, general manager David Poile said a long-term deal for Hornqvist was a primary part of the team’s business plan this offseason. Both sides said the negotiations moved rapidly in recent weeks.
Hornqvist’s decision to sign a contract that carries him into his early 30s was a welcome reversal of fortune for a franchise that lost defenseman Ryan Suter to free agency last summer and nearly lost Shea Weber, who signed an offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Predators matched that offer, but the bonus-heavy structure of the deal will test their wherewithal for the next several years.
Nashville made multiple long-term offers to both Suter and Weber for more than a year. The players refused every one.
“We need to stop the bleeding, so to speak, of players leaving through free agency,” Poile said. “… We’re going to players, I think, at the right time. Not that we didn’t do that with Suter and Weber. We just weren’t able to execute. So it feels good to have some more of our core players.”
Hornqvist was the last player selected in the 2005 draft, made his NHL debut at the start of the 2008-09 season and became a full-time NHL player a year later. From 2009-10 through 2011-12 he averaged 26 goals per season, and his 30 goals in 2009-10 are the most in a season by a Predators’ draft pick.
“I certainly have him down for — in my mind — to at least be a 25-goal scorer in the role that we see him playing, with the power play time that he’s going to get,” Poile said. “… He has to get those goals for us to be successful. That’s a big part of what his role is.”
Shoulder and knee injuries limited Hornqvist to 24 appearances this season. He scored just four goals — all on the power play. No other Nashville player had more than three power-play goals.
While his health had something to do with the fact that Nashville finished 14th in the Western Conference and lost 11 of its final 12 games, it might have paid off in terms of this deal. Hornqvist played at least 76 games in each of the previous three seasons but admitted to some concern about whether he was perceived as a health risk following this one.
“It’s a little tougher if you don’t have a deal,” Hornqvist said. “And, obviously, I was hurt two times and didn’t really know where I was standing. So I’m really happy right now and so thankful for this organization to give me this kind of opportunity.”
With this bit of business out of the way, he plans to return to his native Sweden on Wednesday, where he will rest and train for the coming campaign.
Come the start of training camp in September, he’ll be back in Predators colors — and back at the front of the net.
“It’s just part of the game,” he said. “Some guys are really good at something and I’m good at the front of the net.”