The Real Deal Deal

To me the biggest news is James Neal’s new contract. 6 years, $30 million, annual cap hit of $5 mil per season. I think this is a great deal. This season, through 60 games, Neal has 30 goals and 57 points, both of which are career highs, and there are still 22 games to go. If you apply a little bit of math you will find that if Neal stays on his current pace he will reach 41 goals and 78 points. In the NHL of today, those are elite numbers, point blank.

Some would suggest that this contract is a little high. A few weeks ago Stoosh from thePensblog (sorry can’t find the link, but I know it’s what he said) suggested a cap hit closer to $4.5 mil, and looked at other recently resigned RFAs – James Van Riemsdyk and Bobby Ryan – as comparables. However, I think this was a little bit of wishful thinking on Stoosh’s behalf. JVR’s best season in the NHL only resulted in 40 points (not goals or assists, but both) and he got $4 mil for it. Ryan’s best season, last season, before he signed his new contract, was 34 goals and 71 points. Again, assuming Neal continues his current pace he will eclipse both of those figures by a good margin, for a cap hit that is still less than Ryan’s $5.1 mil.

For a little bit more perspective on Neal’s new deal, let’s not look at him from the RFA perspective. 40 goals is an elite platform in the NHL. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have only reached that mark one time each in their careers. Excluding Steven Stamkos (who now makes $7.5 mil/season) you have to go back to the 07-08 season to find a player who scored more than 40 goals for an average cap hit of less than $5 mil/season. In that season both Brad Boyes (who scored 43, really?) and Daniel Alfredsson (who scored 40) did so while making $4 mil and $4.875 mil respectively.

Certainly Neal reaching 40 goals is still a long way off, and a lot can happen between now and game 82, but it is nice to get excited about it really.

For my final comparison I want to look at Marian Hossa. Of course, he was the last game-changing winger to play in Pittsburgh before James Neal. He spurned the Penguins, who offered him a multi-year deal worth an estimated $7 mil per, played one year in Detroit, for $7.5 mil, and now plays in Chicago where he is making $7.9 mil this season (although his cap hit is only $5.275 mil). In Detroit, Hossa scored 40 goals and 71 points. In his 2 full seasons in Chicago he has scored 24 and 25 goals, and 51 and 57 points. So in other words, the Pens realistically saved at least $2 mil in cap space with Neal’s deal compared to what they offered Hossa, plus Neal stands a very real chance of outperforming Hossa for a long time to come.

All in all, a real bit of Shero magic. In a long lost argument I made (thanks WordPress) I wanted to prove that it would be in the Penguins’s best interest to offer matching contracts to Neal and to Jordan Staal, I can only hope they can sign Staal for the same number.
ALL SALARY CAP FIGURES FROM: capgeek.com undoubtedly the best hockey numbers site on the web.

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