Neal admits kneeing Marchand was ‘not the smartest decision’

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Now that James Neal has had his hearing with the NHL and been suspended five games, he can finally admit it — kneeing Brad Marchand in the head was “not the smartest decision I’ve ever made.”

That quote comes courtesy Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who also has Neal saying there was “no intent to injure” Marchand and there’s “really no excuse for” what happened.

Neal, of course, was a little less forthright in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s emotional game, which saw lines crossed by both his Penguins and their less-than-cordial hosts, the Boston Bruins.

“I haven’t, like, seen the replay or anything, so I mean I hit him in the head with my leg or my foot or my knee or shin area,” Neal said, per Yahoo! Sports. “I don’t know. But I mean, he’s already going down, and I guess I need to try to avoid him, but I have to look at it again.”

When pressed, Neal added: “I mean, what do you want me to say? That I was trying to hit him? No, I’m going by him. I don’t get out of the way, like I said. I need to be more careful and I guess get my knee out of the way, but I’m not trying to hit him in the head or injure him or anything like that.”

The problem many will have with Neal’s “not the smartest decision” admission is that he’s made other not-so-smart decisions in the past. So, will this latest punishment — which comes with the forfeiture of $128,205.15 in salary — help keep his emotions in check?

We’ll start to find out on Dec. 19, when Neal’s eligible to return from his suspension versus Minnesota. But the real test will be when the playoffs begin and the temperature of the games goes up.