Even in the midst of his almost completely scoreless Spring 2011 debut with the Penguins, James Neal's skating and overwhelming physical style reminded us of Marian Hossa. Now more than three years after Hossa rejected a 7 year, $50 million offer to sign with Pittsburgh, Ray Shero gets the last laugh, inking the younger Neal to a more cap-friendly 6 year, $30 million deal. That's another horse in a stable of five big-time forwards - four under the age of 25 - making some $30 million a year combined. It's almost enough to make you forget about a defense that gave up 10 goals this weekend. We'll get to the salary cap implications of the Neal contract in a moment, but we begin with the weekend split against the Flyers and Sabres.
On Jagr, Staal, and what James Neal just did to the salary cap, after the jump...
- We understand that people want to believe that it was for the best the Jaromir Jagr spurned the Pens last summer to sign with Philadelphia. That's human nature. But if you actually do believe that, you might also think it's terrific that Sidney Crosby's getting a nice long rest. No, no, no, no, no. It is not for the best that Jagr didn't line up on Jordan Staal's wing this weekend. We don't care if Jagr misses some games. We think we could probably tolerate him setting up on the half boards solely for 30 seconds of every power play.
I know, it sounds crazy. But really, we would even scratch Richard Park if we needed to.
- With 4 goals in 5 games since returning from injury, Jordan Staal is showing confidence in the offensive zone that we haven't seen from him since his rookie year. Staal isn't just getting the puck to the net. He's getting himself into prime shooting space, and he's either scoring or he's catching iron. He's picking corners. What's his ceiling? He has 19 goals in 39 games in an injury-plagued campaign. He's played in 408 regular season and 67 playoff games, making him possibly the oldest 23-year-old in modern NHL history. If the Pens don't lock him up before the summer of 2013, we could be looking at an unrestricted 25-year-old, 40-goal-scoring shut down center and proven playoff performer. What will it take to extend him? Do it today and you might get him for something in Neal's range. No, he hasn't scored as consistently (yet), but he's a center, a really big center, and a defensive and penalty killing force. Will he want to test the market? We wouldn't wait longer than this summer to find out.
- That brings us all the way back to James Neal. The genius of Shero and his right-hand-man Jason Botterill's roster management to date is that the Penguins have nothing serious to worry about cap-wise until 2013. The Pens have only 4 players who become unrestricted free agents this summer: Steve Sullivan, Arron Asham, Richard Park, and Brent Johnson. Capgeek.com projects that, with those 4 guys unsigned, the Pens will sit about $5 million under the cap in July, and that's without projecting any kind of a cap increase. If you look two summers ahead, things get a lot trickier, as Sidney Crosby and Staal (as well as Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, and Ben Lovejoy) project as UFA's. It could get a lot less tricky if the cap goes up or if the Pens can unload Paul Martin's contract this summer, and in a league where a team traded for Scott Gomez, it's possible. Otherwise, Zybnek Michalek ($4 M) or - I just started getting heart palpitations - Chris Kunitz ($3.75 M) are the likely targets in any cap clearing move. The nucleus of Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang, Fleury and now James Neal remains virtually untouchable.
|Beej: Not part of nucleus|