James Neal was picked up by the Calgary Flames in the off-season. His contract is for five years — at $28.75 million for that time, which averages around $5.75 million per season.
That’s not a bad contract for a player who has been a consistent 20+ goal scorer in over almost all 10 years in the league.
Just last season, with the Vegas Golden Knights, Neal had 25 goals and 19 assists. On top of that, he had a Stanley Cup final run with 6 goals and 5 assists with the team in their inaugural season — he hasn’t missed playoffs since before 2010. And pretty good playoff runs at that.
This year, he should be making playoffs again, as the Flames are having a regular season run that some are comparing to the 1988-89 Stanley Cup team.
The worst part? Neal hasn’t really been a contributing factor to this years’ success.
Neal has been a consistent third line forward this year — in 45 games he has a mere 4 goals and 5 assists in 45 games. He had better points in last years’ playoffs. In Neal’s rookie year with the Dallas Stars, he had 24 goals and 13 assists. That’s a great first NHL season and he had maintained that consistency … up until this season.
You may be curious as to how this happened? We are too.
Well, it’s not his first time joining a new team. On Feb. 21, 2011 Neal was traded from the Dallas Stars (with Matt Niskanen) to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Alex Goligoski. He played 20 games of what was left of the season, with the Penguins. In 2011, he had 21 goals with the Stars and was only able to snag a mere goal with the Penguins for the remainder of the season.
But, the next season, Neal’s first full season with the Penguins in 2011-12, he had his highest producing season. He had 40 goals and 41 assists.
His transition to Calgary has not been so successful — not yet. There’s a few factors as to why he may not be producing this season. He does appear to be putting in the work, but his scoring opportunities haven’t been connecting. The points are not reflecting his efforts, which is why he’s still in the lineup.
It’s quite possible, that his lack of ice time could be a contributing factor to his lack in point production.
It is really hard to pinpoint his struggles. After this season, Neal will still have 4 seasons remaining on his contract with the Flames. It’s likely he will remain with the team for the next few seasons. It’s likely that the team’s management and fan base will have to be patient — and patient we will be.