Nov 15, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal (18) reacts after being named the first star of the game against the Nashville Predators at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

James Neal's Questionable On-Ice Decisions Played Factor In His Departure

The Pittsburgh Penguins dealt James Neal to the Nashville Predators in exchange for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, in what was arguably the biggest shocker of the summer.

Neal, who had been a prominent goal-scorer on the second-line with Evgeni Malkin, and a large contributor on the Pens’ power-play, probably could have lured another piece due to his caliber, but his departure wasn’t solely based off of the two forwards received at his expense.

According to NHL.com’s Pittsburgh Penguins correspondent Wes Crosby, general manager Jim Rutherford reportedly said that he shipped Neal to Nashville in part due to his on-ice decision-making.

Now, we can’t assume what Rutherford meant specifically about Neal’s in-game decisions, because there’s many conclusions that can be drawn from his comment.

It could mean one of mainly two things though:

  1. The two incidents last season where Neal kneed Boston Bruins’ forward Brad Marchand in the head, and cross-checked Detroit Red Wings’ forward Luke Glendening in the head.
  2. His puck possession issues

Suspended five games for kneeing Marchand and fined for cross-checking Glendening, these events are an extreme possibility as to what Rutherford’s comment meant. And, these incidents weren’t the first time Neal’s had run-ins with the NHL’s Player Safety department.

In 2012, Neal was suspended one contest for his high-leaping blindside hit on Flyers’ forward Sean Couturier, and his head shot on Flyers’ captain Claude Giroux in Game 3 of the Pens’ first-round playoff series. Neal was also banished for two games back when he was with Dallas in 2009, when he hit Blue Jackets’ forward Derek Dorsett up high from behind.

Although he was not sidelined for this other cheap hit in 2010, Neal nailed Coyotes’ forward Petr Prucha with an elbow shot to the head from behind, which cause Prucha to lay motionless until he was eventually carried off on a stretcher.

You’re seeing the pattern here.

While I’m confident these events are partly attributed to Rutherford’s comment, there’s also his problems with puck possession that the GM could be referring to as well.

Often times, when Neal would fly into the offensive zone, he’d come down the side, swoop towards the hashmarks/center of the ice, and take a shot. However, that’s all he’d get: one shot. That, or Neal would simply lose the puck. Because, let’s face it, Neal only brought a wicked shot to the table, and that’s it.

Pittsburgh needs players that will hold onto the biscuit. Even Chris Kunitz or Brandon Sutter can keep the puck better than Neal could. And Rutherford has said he wants better puck possession.

Both of these factors could have been inferred in Rutherford’s comment. Nonetheless, Neal’s now a Predator due to various reasons.

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