James Neal was one of the biggest names not taken off the board on Sunday during free agency but it didn’t take long on Monday for Neal to find a home as the Calgary Flames and Neal worked through midnight to iron out the details of a five-year, $28.75 million deal. Neal has 263 goals and 495 points in 703 career NHL games.
What Neal Brings to the Flames
After being one of the more active teams leading up to free agency and signing a few key names on Sunday, the Flames spent some money to round out their roster and add proven scoring punch to their top six which already includes Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk. Earlier in the week, Calgary also sent defenseman Dougie Hamilton to Carolina in exchange for blueliner Noah Hanafin and forward Elias Lindholm.
Neal is a lock to score 20 goals and there were few players in free agency anyone could say that about. He had 25 goals and 44 points in 71 games with the Vegas Golden Knights last season then added six goals and 11 points in 20 games during their run to the Stanley Cup Final. He’s played for winning organizations like Pittsburgh, Nashville, Vegas and Dallas and he’s a veteran with proven playoff experience. Regardless of who he plays with, he’ll put the puck in the back of the net.
For Calgary, this is a welcome sight as the team ranked sixth-worst in total goals scored in 2017-18. He’ll immediately slot into a top-three role if playing right wing and a top-six if on the left side.
What Took So Long for Neal to Sign?
While one day isn’t long, by the standards set this year in NHL free agency, for Neal to stay on the free agency board until Monday was quite surprising. He was ranked among TSN’s top-five available free agents. The reason it took until Monday appeared to be Neal’s desire to ensure he’d gotten the deal he wanted, in both term and dollar value. Perhaps, while he had many interested suitors, at the end of the day not everyone was eager to come up to the level Neal desired.
Neal, 30, will see this new deal take him to the age of 35 and will most likely be his last big contract in the NHL. A winger who has never scored fewer than 20 goals in every season of his NHL career, after 35, he’s more likely to sign one-year terms to close out a solid NHL career. Getting the right deal was a must and it was likely why he didn’t return to the Vegas Golden Knights — a team he wanted to play for but just couldn’t make the terms work.
For Vegas, the loss of Neal stings a bit. He was one of the veteran forwards they plucked from the NHL Expansion Draft and he came exactly as advertised. The team simply wasn’t ready to give him the term and dollar figure he wanted but he was easily one of the most recognizable faces on a Golden Knights team that will forever be remembered as the most successful expansion franchise in the history of sports.
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Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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