This post is part of Golden Knights Day on PHT…
Look, not many people are going to shed tears for a guy making $5 million per year, especially a player who’s been guilty of some dirty hits.
So, James Neal might not be the most sympathetic figure possible. It’s easier to feel bad for, say, Jonathan Marchessault, who’s under pressure to find true security and a consistent spot even after scoring 30 goals.
Neal, 29, has bounced around quite a bit for someone who’s been such a steady source of goals. Since 2008-09, his 238 goals rank as the 15th-most in the NHL, more than the likes of John Tavares, Max Pacioretty, Daniel Sedin, and Jamie Benn.
However Neal felt about that move, he found outstanding chemistry on a line with Evgeni Malkin. He scored 89 goals and 184 points in 199 games with the Penguins, peaking with 40 goals and 81 points in 80 contests in 2011-12.
Malkin goosed those numbers, but he clearly benefited from Neal’s presence, winning a Hart Trophy and scoring title during that 2011-12 campaign.
As well as things often went from a stats perspective, the Penguins experienced some letdowns, and Neal was jettisoned in a trade with the Nashville Predators.
His comments to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review back in October 2014 were a real bummer.
“I mean, it wasn’t really in my hands,” Neal said. “I was a part of that team, and I never even got a call from the new coaches or the new general manager. The only time I got a call was when I had been traded.”
However Malkin felt about Neal being traded, he’s doing fine, what with the Penguins winning back-to-back Stanley Cup titles since that trade. Neal ended up being productive for the Predators … though that opened the door for a twisting the knife moment: Patric Hornqvist, the featured player Pittsburgh received in that trade, scored the Cup-clinching goal against Nashville:
If that wasn’t enough, the Predators (justifiably) chose to protect four defensemen in the expansion draft, and the Golden Knights couldn’t be dissuaded from selecting Neal.
So, to review: Neal has been traded twice and now selected in the expansion draft. Even with a modified no-trade clause, his run of having little control over his situation continued. He saw the team that traded him repeat as champions and now he leaves a well-built contender for an expansion team.
Oh yeah, and with only a year remaining on his contract, there’s pressure to earn his next one. What if playing for the Golden Knights hurts his numbers, and thus his market value? What if another trade happens and that doesn’t work out?
Those are all unfortunate possibilities for Neal, who should maybe change his nickname to “The Raw Deal.”
Some parting advice, then: Neal should hold out for an ironclad no-movement clause in his next … deal.