Well, as a lot of you know neal is in his contract year and is playing like what we expected of him (and more) when we traded goligoski for him and niskanen. Dont get me wrong, this is very exciting as a pens fan to see him score timely goals and the intensity he brings to the game helps him form chemistry with malkin, BUT now the ball is in Neal's court as far as negotiating a new deal. So what will become of neal and other players on the team? A player (or 2) may have to be moved in order to give Neal the raise he deserves. Being a RFA though helps the penguins a little bit. Many blogs have people stating that Neal can get anywhere between 3.75 mil - 5.5 mil. I personally think Neal will be looking to earn at least staals numbers (4 mil) and maybe more, so for the sake of this blog i will be thinking as if he will be making anywhere between 4 - 5 mil. I will go through some scenarios (from best to worst in my opinion) trying to depict what will become of Neal and the penguins team itself and giving some upsides/downsides to each
#1 -Salary Cap Increase
Well the salary cap has been on a steady incline since the lockout which is always a great thing to see. The rise of the salary floor sometimes makes some players "overpaid" but its part of hockey (and buisness). Its a little early to know if the cap will increase, but it looks like a possiblity. If the cap would increase by about 1.5 mil - 2 mil, that'd be perfect to add onto neals contract giving him anywhere between the 4 - 4.8 mil range. This would be perfect in the sense that many of our core players would be safe for now and would not affect our depth.
Upside: Keep the core and most of the team intact
Downside: Not much, the team will pretty much be the same as is is now
#2 -Letting Niskanen Go
Matt Niskanen is another player in his contract year, and he has looked fairly well this season. He has been somewhat unnoticeable, but as a defender, that can be a good thing and not being criticized for getting burned or giving up turnovers. He is currently at a cap hit of 1.5 mil and the depth of our D may make his leave all the more easier. With the top 4 pretty much locked with orpik, letang, martin, and michalek, only our bottom 2 remain to be determined. Lovejoy has at times looked good, playing solid hockey and his offensive game is an upside. Engelland was stuck in the top pairing with letang earlier this season and didnt look too bad against the other teams top lines. Dont forget despres, morrow, and some others. Despres was recently called up and played 2 games (1A, +2) and even though you could tell he had some jitters, he was able to settle down and play a solid game of hockey. Morrow impressed many at the prospect camp and its only a matter of time until he cracks the lineup. Bortuzzo and Strait are proven to be called on when injuries come about. This makes Niskanen easily dispensable and since he is a RFA, he could be traded for draft picks, or earn draft picks if someone puts in a claim for him. I see this scenario having the highest chance of happening and taking Niskanens 1.5 mil and simply adding it to Neal's contract now.
Upside: The pens lose only an overpaid 5th/6th D man
Downside: Niskanen has potential to be more than just a 5th/6th D man
#3 - Trading Paul Martin
Many teams would be willing to give up a little extra for a top defenseman. If Despres does exceed expectations, then theres a good chance next year he could be promoted to the top 4. As well all know, Martin hasn't been playing his best hockey this season and him and michalek are a teams worse -8. Martin has been a little more noticeable in a bad way though, giving up turnovers or sometimes just being a little out of position. I'd prefer to have Michalek over Martin simply for the fact that Michaleks cap hit is lower. So Martin gets traded in order to re-sign Neal. I know this may look bad and some of you will jump down my throat for saying Martin can be traded, and believe me, i'd love for him to stay. I think he will bounce back and have a great rest of the season, but some benefit can come from him being traded. Martin can be traded to teams like the Flames, Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Oilers, and Ducks who would love to add Martin to their defensive core. Getting a 2nd or 3rd rd draft pick would be easy and could possibly get a 1st rd pick depending on what the deal is. These teams also have wingers that could be part of the deal too. After hearing rumors of the penguins/flames talking, i made up a deal in my mind. Martin & Tangradi for Bourque & a 2nd. Bourques salary cap is low enough where the pens could also use the remainding cap space to add some to Neal for his raise. This move could be important when crosby and staal need new contracts after next season
Upside: Huge free up in cap space. Get a lot back from other teams for Martin
Downside: Relying too much on our prospects. D loses its depth for now
#4 - Neal Simply Doesn't Sign
It would be awful to see Neal leave the pens, especially after showing us what he can do for the team. He's on pace for hitting the 30+ goal mark, and brings his A game every time he hits the ice. Sure we could go out and sign another top 6 winger, but will he have the same chemistry and play as hard as Neal? The only thing going for the pens is that Neal is a RFA. According to the rules around RFA's if a team offers anything more than 3.1 mil, then the team gets a 1st rd pick as compensation, plus more depending on what the offer is. I can see a team offering 5 mil for neal which would mean the pens would get back a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd rd pick for compensation.
Upside: Compensation would be pretty good. Possibly add a cheaper top 6 winger
Downside: Lose a great top 6 winger. Lose the chemistry he built up. Lose a consistent scorer
Im sure there are many other things that can happen and this all varies on what Neal wants and how he plays the rest of this season. It also depends on who steps up for the pens and if prospects show Bylsma and Shero that letting some players go is ok. Shero can be a magician at times and i have faith that in whatever he does will be for the best of the Penguins. Crosby and Staal are the next contracts to be dealt with, but thats a whole different blog
Thank you all for reading and please share other scenarios you have or see happening.