With the trade deadline approaching, we will be profiling several players in the weeks ahead that have a good chance to be dealt by February 26th.
The Vegas Golden Knights had everything set up perfectly at the beginning of the season. They acquired a number of extra picks through the expansion draft for the 2017, 2019 and 2020 drafts and had an abundance of rental players they could trade off at the trade deadline to add picks for the upcoming 2018 draft, including James Neal. Instead, the team took off and is currently the top team in the Western Conference. So, will the Golden Knights consider trading him?
Neal is entering the final year of a six-year, $30MM ($5MM AAV) that he signed back in 2012 when he was still with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He does have a Modified No Trade Clause in which he can list eight team he cannot be traded to.
Neal is on pace for a very strong season as he has been an integral part to the the team’s second line alongside center Erik Haula and winger David Perron. Neal has 22 goals already this year in just 48 games, just one goal shy of tying last year’s total of 23 when he was with the Nashville Predators. His success garnered him a spot in the all-star game today. Assuming he keeps up his success, Neal is on pace for one of his best goal-scoring seasons, although his team-high is 40 goals back with Pittsburgh in the 2011-12 season.
Another positive is that the winger has shown consistency throughout the season. Besides a small scoreless streak in December, he has shown himself to be a player the Golden Knights can count on during most games. In his last eight games, he has put up five goals.
48 GP, 22 goals, 12 assists, 34 points, +1 rating, 20 PIM, 17:26 ATOI, 53.2 CF%
Neal would likely be a great fit to a number of teams if the Golden Knights were truly interested in moving on from the winger. A team like Tampa Bay, who might want to add one more key piece wouldn’t complain if they could add Neal to their second of third line as a final piece for their title run this year. However, many teams are looking for goal scorers for the playoff run, so if Vegas chose to move him, they would likely get a number of bidders for him.
Likelihood of a Trade
The plan would have worked perfectly had Vegas performed like everyone thought an expansion franchise would. However, at this point, there is little to no chance that Neal goes anywhere as the team is on a title run of their own. Moving him might easily break up the team’s winning chemistry. While the team has said they are focused on locking up Neal, who is looking to score big on one final contract at age 30, there has been no updates on negotiations, suggesting that none have truly started or the team is having trouble finding terms that both sides are amenable to. However, general manager George McPhee has already said that Neal isn’t going anywhere this year, so the worst case scenario is the team will use him as their own rental player. Of course, if they could find a way to get a similar player back, anything is possible, but a deal remains highly doubtful. He is likely staying in Vegas for the stretch run.