Why Doesn’t Pittsburgh Try and Trade James Neal?


May 4, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal (18) clears the puck against the New York Rangers during the third period in game two of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pens won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As I’ve mentioned in recent articles, the Pittsburgh Penguins are flirting with the salary cap limit.

Considering they endured a fifth-straight postseason meltdown, significant changes will be inevitable, and its already commenced with the firing of general manager Ray Shero.

Moving into the summer, Pittsburgh has the eighth worst amount of cap space available ($15,980,833) – per Cap Geek – and need to shed some more salary, because sooner or later, defenseman Olli Maatta’s entry-level deal will expire, and so will Beau Bennett’s. So, they’ll need some coin if they long to lock those two up.

In the NHL, specifically, it’s always beneficial if you’ve given yourself room to maneuver; which is why so many players switch sweaters every year. Pittsburgh desperately needs to add players who’ve excelled in the playoffs, because another disastrous postseason following a dominating regular-season showcasing will all but cause Pens’ fans to check into rehab.

James Neal has not, in any way, been a playoff performer, and Pittsburgh should strongly consider ditching his $5 million per year salary.

I pleaded the Pens to ship Neal elsewhere after the last postseason, and people on the outside were disowning the idea. I don’t care about his name, his regular-season stats, or that he’s the third-best forward Pittsburgh has. The fact is the guy doesn’t show up in the playoffs. And while Crosby didn’t either this year, you obviously aren’t getting rid of him.

Neal has a fantastic shot, there’s no denying that. However, that’s all he really has. And if anything, it’s because of his rocket shot that keeps Evgeni Malkin from shooting more – which he needs to.

Four points in 13 postseason games, give me a break. Neal had less points than Bennett, who played in one less game, and on the third-line when he did. A 19-year-old defenseman tied Neal in points (Olli Maatta), and a 37-year-old fourth-line forward, Craig Adams, fell two points shy of equalizing him. If Neal has such a blistering shot, then why did his team-high 49 shots only reach the back of the cage twice?

Still not enough to convince you? What about last year’s postseason? Sure, Neal’s 10 points (6G, 4A) in 13 tilts may not seem too awful, but seven of them came in two games against a putrid Ottawa Senators’ team. Between the Pens’ first-round matchup with the New York Islanders and their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Boston Bruins, Neal garnered one goal – one. So tell me again why Neal shouldn’t be on the chopping block?

I keep waiting and waiting for Neal to prove me wrong – because believe me, I want him to – but we as fans can’t keep supporting a guy simply based off who he is, how many years he has ahead of him, and what he did during the regular-season. Every fan wants to see their team succeed, and it’s arguably more prevalent in Pittsburgh. So why insist on defending a player who just can’t translate his regular-season efforts to when the Pens need it most?

This is a business, not a popularity contest. And because Neal’s making the third-most dough per year, accompanied with his invisible postseason displays, it would be in the organization’s best interest to deliberate sending Neal on his way.

There are plenty of other players they can add with his salary off the books. I would say trade Kris Letang, however, his wallet and recent stroke episode all but terminated that idea. At least with Neal, you can still get a promising package in return for his services.

Malkin did just fine with Ruslan Fedotenko and Maxime Talbot in 2009, so it’s not like Neal’s a necessity.