James Neal: The Producer, The Man

The Real Deal no longer resides in Pittsburgh.

James Neal has become a major component of the Pens' prolific attack. (Icon SMI)
James Neal is now a Nashville Predator.(Icon SMI)

James Neal was dealt to the Nashville Predators on Friday night during the annual NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia.

In return, the Penguins receive RW Patric Hornqvist who figures to see top-6 minutes on the wing of either Crosby or Malkin; and Nick Spaling, a versatile forward who can play all three positions in the bottom-6 group.

While Spaling is an upgrade over just about everyone the Pens had in their bottom six last season, Hornqvist has some rather large shoes to fill in terms of production.

James Neal the Producer

Money doesn’t grow on trees (at least not any that I’ve ever seen), and neither do 40-goal scorers. The Penguins sent away their most dangerous goal-producing winger, with seemingly no one to step in and take his place.

Hornqvist will fill the roster spot, but filling Neal’s skates will prove to be no easy task.

Neal has a wrist shot that is arguably one of the best in the game. His release is pure and almost inhumanly strong. Not to mention the accuracy. “Nealer,” as he was affectionately referred to by his teammates, didn’t fire high or wide very often. If he was able to get free anywhere near the slot (or the top of the face-off circles for that matter) the puck most likely would find the back of the net.

Neal would even set up just behind the Penguin player taking a face-off, in the hopes of a face-off win he could fire right away and catch the opposing goalie unprepared. That play worked to perfection on many an occasion.

To say that James Neal perfected the “wicked wrester” is a mighty understatement.

One other facet of this deal not to be overlooked is just how exactly Evgeni Malkin, Neal’s centerman and “supplier,” will handle not having his right-hand man to dish the puck to any more.

A rising consensus around the Penguins towards the end of the season and including the playoffs was that Malkin would defer to Neal too often. There is certainly hope now with Neal gone, that Malkin will once again be the “bully” on the ice more often than not.

James Neal the Man

Prior to his departure, Neal was the one player in the organization referred to most as the guy to be dealt at draft time. So when the word came down that he was on his way to the music city, there was no shock factor involved.

What could be considered somewhat shocking is the vitriol with which his departure was met by some Pens’ fans.

After the deal, word on the street was that Neal was not a very nice guy. It was almost a “good riddance” of sorts. Now I never met the man, but I know a few people who did. People who are not in the media, and with which Neal had ZERO professional dealings. As a man, they all had very high praise for him. Some in the media claim he was a pain-in-the-you-know-what with which to get along. There are rumors out there that even higher-ups within the Penguins’ organization did not particularly care for Neal and how he handled being told what do in terms of public relations (appearances at local hospitals and fund-raising events, media sessions, etc.). Take it all with a grain of salt, as Pens’ beat guy Rob Rossi opined last night in his Chipped Ice Blog, Neal was a far kinder and nicer soul than many perceived.

To that end, I wish Neal continued and even greater success in the music city (except of course when the Preds play the Pens).

The Deal as a Whole

(Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)
Patric Hornqvist was part of the return for James Neal. (Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

Its been two days and I’m still not totally sold on the deal. Only from the standpoint that I feel the Penguins could have gotten more in return.

I feel that Hornqvist and Spaling are solid enough players, so the quality is there from a personnel perspective. But to move forward with the deal BEFORE Nashville made their first-round selection (12th overall) on Friday night, just seems a bit rushed and half-hearted. Almost as though Rutherford wanted to move and be done with it.

I would have asked for Nashville’s first-round selection, and settled for their second-rounder if it came to that (considering the Pens did not have a second- or third-round selection this year).

Alas, what’s done is done. Water under the bridge, as they say.

Check back tomorrow for my free agency preview from the Penguins’ perspective. Well, its my perspective on who I think the Pens should pursue.

The rumor is Rutherford and Co. have their sights set on four players. One of whom is supposedly Evgeni Malkin’s best friend from Russia; Nikolai Kulemin. The two have been not only teammates, but also line mates for both the Russian National Team, and Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL.



3 thoughts on “James Neal: The Producer, The Man”

  1. How about mentioning something about the dumb retaliatory penalties he’s prone to taking late in games or maybe something about his next dirty hit can lead to another, and lengthier suspension?

    Two holes have now been filled with this deal, and more if you want to look at it from a viewpoint of a guy in Hornqvist that is known for crashing the net to get the dirty goals and a someone who is highly regarded as a fan favorite and a proven leader in the locker room. Not to mention a versatile 3rd line winger in Spaling, who can do just enough of everything right in a bottom 6 role. I’ve also read reports that he could well be on his way to a 20 goal season after coming off a career high 13 goals with a poor Nashville offense.

    Yea, Neal has shot. A great shot. But also shot that was notorious for not showing up in big games. He underachieved while playing on a line with a word class center and he’ll be lucky to rack up 25+ without Sid, Geno, and the Pittsburgh PP.

    Tuck it, bro. Neal won’t be that missed.

  2. Dave – No need to beat around the bush – Neal was a complete no-show when playoffs came around. Isn’t that what really needs to be fixed around here? And to those who propose that the Pens fix this problem without booting anyone on the current roster………… How else does it happen?

    I don’t agree with all of the comments in Tannor’s article above. I think Neal’s shot has lost some accuracy in recent years and his grit has turned into frustration and cheap shot antics that other players and the league are not tolerating.

    It was definitely time for him to go and I have the confidence Rutherford got the best deal he could. This could work out where Spaling could turn into a nice bonus kind of like Dupuis in the Hossa trade and Niskanen in the Goligoski trade. Time will tell……………..

  3. I’m not sure it’s Hornqvist’s job to fill Neal’s shoes or that he’ll be occupying Neal’s roster spot. Rutherford has stated he’s going after a winger in FA for Malkin. Personally, i’ll happily trade some regular season perimeter sniping for the kind of dirty goals that Hornqvist specializes in that will, hopefully, be of more use in the playoffs.

    Will be interesting to see how it plays out, although I feel pretty confident Neal will never again come close to touching the numbers he had with the Pens (certainly not 40 goals).

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