We all hated to see him go. After losing winger James Neal to the expansion draft in 2017, Nashville could win him back in 2018, during free agency.
It was a move that really hurt the Nashville Predators and fans. GM David Poile had to choose between established scorer James Neal and budding young center Calle Jarnkrok. The chosen would remain in Nashville, the other would almost certainly be drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights.
Poile chose Jarnkrok, and Neal was snatched up by Vegas. It was that simple, and Nashville could do nothing about it. There was no deal or amount of money that could save Nashville from the evil expansion draft.
Neal was gone.
Neal came to Nashville back in 2014, and played 3 seasons for the Predators. He tallied 77 goals and 59 assists in his 219 games in Smashville. He’s a prolific scorer with as deadly a shot as anyone in the NHL. Neal is physical, he is mature, and he is a leader. A player like him is hard to come by these days.
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Neal went to Vegas and has done exactly what everyone thought he would. 18 goals and 11 assists so far, in 42 games. He even scored against the Predators in his first time playing his former team.
While he currently plays for the most annoying team in the league, all hope is not lost. Neal could be a Predator yet again.
With Vegas’ selection of Neal in the expansion draft, they picked up his Nashville contract. That deal only had one more year on it. Now, Neal is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. This could prove troublesome for the Golden Knights.
CapFriendly.com makes teams’ cap space and such easy to understand. If you look here, you can see that Vegas might be in some trouble this offseason.
Three of Vegas’ top 5 scorers are set to become free agents after this year. Neal, David Perron, and William Karlsson could all be hitting the bricks, theoretically. It is possible for Vegas to sign all three back since they have an estimated $8.1 million to spend this offseason, however, I see that as unlikely.
This season, Vegas owes Neal $5 million, $3.75 million to Perron, and $1 million to Karlsson. Personally, I just don’t see any of them taking pay cuts after one season. Especially a very productive season.
How It Works for Nashville
James Neal is 30 years old. Sure, he’s not ancient, but he’s definitely got a limited number of seasons left.
Nashville is in good shape right now with their offense. The top 7 forwards are locked up through 2020. Kevin Fiala, Colton Sissons, and Pontus Aberg are under contract for at least one more season after this year.
This coming offseason, Nashville has a projected $2.9 million in cap space.
With $4.7 million potentially free, that’s could be enough to sign a 30-year-old winger. Not to mention, Neal loved his time in Nashville.
The only tricky piece to this equation is Alexei Emelin. Emelin will be a free agent after this season. Emelin has played solid defense for the Predators this season, and was great with P.K. Subban, while Ryan Ellis was hurt. Now that Ellis is back, Emelin has gone down to the third pairing with Yannick Weber.
The Predators owe Emelin almost $3 million this season, making a move like James Neal very tricky. With less than $5 million to spend, if things work out like they should, Poile has to make a choice again. Does he sign his 5th defenseman again, or does he go for the big fish in free agency?
This offseason, Poile has many options. His top 7 forwards are locked up until 2020, and his top 4 defensemen are locked up until 2019. With that, Poile has some room to go after a big free agency splash, if he chooses.
It could be tricky, but Neal could come back to Nashville. If anyone can make it happen, it’s Poile.