I have no idea as to the validity of these rumors, but via Twitter, Mike Colligan (Penguins correspondent for TheHockeyWriters.com and NHL analyst at Forbes.com) has stated that Ottawa sports writers are insisting that the Pens will trade James Neal. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Ray Shero may be considering trading Neal in order to hold on to Kris Letang. My initial reaction was shock and disbelief, though I can see some logic behind it. For the record, I don't agree with any of the logic, but I was curious to get fans reaction to it.
Neal does have an attractive contract for someone who is a 40+ goal scorer the last two years (at least on pace for 40+ this past year). Shero may believe that he might be able to get more for Neal from teams that he is willing to trade with than he could get for Letang (hard to believe). Also, it's possible that there are more teams willing to pick up Neal's generous (from an owners perspective) contract rather than paying Letang top dollar. Location is a factor, as if only teams in the east are willing to trade for Letang, that would require the Pens having to deal Letang somewhere in their own conference. Only Shero knows about those circumstances and so it is hard to speculate further about them. As far as on the ice goes, I feel that the Penguins have good organizational depth with plenty of young defensemen. I'm not implying that any of them will be as good as Letang, but I think we are set up to survive the loss of Letang.
Giving up Neal, on the other hand, I think critically weakens the Pens roster at a position that we do not have a lot of youth. Malkin's line would instantly be severely weakened, and I'm not sure that the Penguins have young forwards who could at least competently play along side Malkin like they have young defensemen who could competently play Letang's minutes. Also, finances must come into play, as giving up Neal's [relatively] light cap hit and then replacing it with Letang's 7+ million dollar cap hit would probably limit the Penguins in the number of other free agents they could retain. Trading Letang would free up more cap space to allow us to maybe hold on to a Pascal Dupuis or Jarome Iginla. Ultimately, it would seem that giving up Neal would force the Pens to give up other free agents, not to mention the depth we have at defensemen vs depth at forward positions.
Technically, it is not an either/or kind of scenario, as Shero could keep both Neal and Letang. But if it is not realistic that you can keep both, a trade would allow you to at least get some return for Letang, rather than letting him walk away as an unrestricted free agent (much like with Mike Wallace and the Steelers). I'd bet that rather than keep them both, a trade will happen. The question remains: would Letang be worth letting go of Neal and whoever else the Pens couldn't afford? I'd venture to argue no, but I'd actually like to hear your opinions in the comments section below. Sound off!