One of the biggest question marks of the upcoming off-season was the contract negotiations with James Neal. The Penguins, with limited cap room, were looking to re-sign the goal scoring 24 year old winger before he hit restricted free agency and were able to get that out of the way early today. From the team:
The Pittsburgh Penguins have re-signed forward James Neal to a six-year contract extension, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Ray Shero.
The deal begins with the 2012-13 season and runs through the 2017-18 campaign, and has an average annual value of $5 million.
Neal, 24, has emerged as one of the top goal-scoring threats in the National Hockey League in his first full campaign with Pittsburgh this year. Playing most of the season on the Penguins’ top line alongside NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin, Neal currently ranks fourth (tied) in the NHL and second on the team with a career-high 30 goals
It's a high price to pay, and now according to Capgeek the Pens have $59.1 million tied up in contracts next season. But there will be a new CBA by that time and who knows if there will be any salary rollbacks or a buyout of any players. Plus the Pens have some money tied up in Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek that they could possibly clear out via trade in order to open a roster spot for Simon Despres and see significant savings against the cap.
As for Neal, this represents a huge commitment to him. He's got a limited playoff resume and will need to score 30+ a year to justify this contract, but with his size, forechecking ability, shot and chemistry with Evgeni Malkin it definitely seems like a good gamble for Shero and the Pens to take.