James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Neal and the real deals

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Daily Doses can be a bit of a beast to put together, what with there being three nights worth of action instead of the typical solo evening (one can be eventful enough). The weekend of Hockey Day in America was an odd duck in particular, though, as the usual docile Sunday beast ended up including more contests than Saturday (normally the busiest evening of the hockey week) by a score of 10-8.


Thankfully, there are a few rules to lean back on. In this case, it’s one of my dopey quirks: when in doubt, go for a cheesy rhyme.


I’m not sure if Razor Reaugh invented or merely popularized the practice of calling James Neal “The Real Deal,” but that connection might sweetly summarize this weekend’s bigger moments. A big chunk of the major moments involved Neal or a deal.



One of the farthest-reaching moments of the weekend came when the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they had come to terms with Neal on a six-year, $30 million contract extension on Sunday. It’s an interesting compromise when you really break it down.


After all, Neal is basically the human hockey form of the nature vs. nurture debate.



In four NHL seasons, the 24-year-old winger already has 103 goals. Neal has never had less than 22 goals in those four campaigns, with his career-low coming in 2010-11 (22) and his career-high of 30 already collected in 59 contests this season. From a pure fantasy standpoint, Neal brings a ton to the table, with 247 PIM (66 this season) and 828 shots on goal (a league-leading 245 in 2011-12) as his peripheral stats. He has the size you hope for in a power forward, as he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 208 lbs.



For all those good things, Neal’s been blessed with a ridiculous amount of linemate luck in his young career. Few wingers get to skate alongside centers like Brad Richards and Evgeni Malkin in their entire careers, let alone within two seasons. It’s harsh to beat up on Neal for a small sample like this, but his first chunk of games with the Penguins after being traded to Pittsburgh are the ones he registered without superstars. The result: one goal and six points in 20 regular season games and one goal and one assists in a seven-game series.



For that reason, $5 million seems pretty fair. On his best days and with his best centers, he’s a borderline All-Star, but at other times he’s slumped and his impact has been negligible. Ultimately, it’s another bit of evidence of how dangerous second contracts are getting in the NHL. (In the grand scheme of things, I like the deal for both sides, though.)



Neal’s deal wasn’t the only deal to speak of. The Minnesota Wild handed Kyle Brodziak a three-year contract extension on Sunday. There’s also talk that the New York Islanders are talking a new contract with Evgeni Nabokov, which seems kinda stunning but the Isles march to the beat of their own weird little goaltending drum with their own weird (but often quietly bright) goalie GM Garth Snow.


Moving on to different types of deals, let’s look at some of the trades. The biggest one from a fantasy perspective probably involved the Philadelphia Flyers acquiring Pavel Kubina from the Tampa Bay Lightning for the more-or-less typical package of a second-rounder and whatever else Philly had lying around. Kubina has been a disappointment offensively with a rather talented group of players in front of him in Tampa Bay, but if there’s any team that could get useful points out of Kubina, it’s the offensive locomotive in Philly. (I’d recommend taking a wait-and-see approach there, though.)


The other fairly significant trade sent big Montreal Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill to the Nashville Predators. Gill doesn’t bring much to the table fantasy-wise, but he gives the Predators useful depth. Most importantly, it’s a sign that the Preds are likely taking a big swing this season – and  seem that much less likely to trade Ryan Suter or Shea Weber before the deadline.


Oh, and the Rick Nash trade nonsense keeps going, but it’s feeling a little groundhog day-ish.  The latest hubbub is over Toronto, which I must admit would be delightfully entertaining – he wouldn’t even need to start playing responsible in all three zones! – but that’s all I’m going to say about that right now. Expect minimal updates up until Feb. 27 unless something happens. (In which case, close your eyes and prepare for the deluge.)



The Red Wings’ home winning streak is at 23 games, which means that they’re the record holders even in Mike Milbury’s eyes. The only other naysayer fallback is shootout/OT wins, but they might just be able to win enough at Joe Louis Arena to even quiet that bit of fun-killing … After breaking their nine-game losing streak, the Chicago Blackhawks have now won three games in a row … Niklas Backstrom churned out the type of win the Minnesota Wild always used to get on Sunday, stopping 48 shots for a 2-0 shutout … Joey MacDonald has now won six contests in a row. Those kinds of mini-steals can really distinguish a fantasy season (and most importantly, make it more fun).



Rich Peverley will be out 4-6 weeks with an MCL sprain, so it’s probably time to part ways with a forward who’s been a great fit in Boston … Chris Pronger’s concussion issues are bad enough that he might reach out to Keith Primeau. It’s getting tougher and tougher to believe that he’ll play significant amounts of NHL hockey again … Mike Green’s back (for now) … From the “GUHHHH!” category, an errant puck broke Douglas Murray’s Adam’s apple. “GUHHHHH!” …. Jamie Benn’s missing some time after a skate blade cut him. He’s day-to-day right now … Matt Duchene returned to action for the Avs … Keith Ballard is out indefinitely with a neck/concussion injury … Martin Havlat is shooting for a mid-March return … Warren Peters received a one-game suspension for cross-checking, which will probably be the only way he gets in Daily Dose columns … Adam Larsson is on the injured reserve … Mikko Koivu is banged up, again … James Wisniewski is dealing with a groin injury. Nikolai Khabibulin is in the same spot. (Click here for the full injury list.)




Don't forget that Rotoworld is the place to be for all your fantasy news on February 27 during the NHL's Trade Deadline Day. In addition, Michael Finewax will be doing a live chat from 12:30-4:00 pm ET and joining him will be some of your favorite writers from NBCSports.com Pro Hockey Talk and Rotoworld.

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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