Tag:James Neal
Posted on: February 29, 2012 10:17 am
Edited on: February 29, 2012 10:29 am
 

Morning Skate: Stars keep playoff push going

The Stars go searching for a fifth straight win. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Morning Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

Playoff Race

7:30 ET, Pittsburgh at Dallas (NBC Sports Network)

The teams in the Atlantic Division (excluding the Islanders) are in an interesting spot here. Barring a miracle, they aren't going to catch the Rangers but none of them is fighting for their playoff lives either. Maybe New Jersey has to worry if they lose a few more -- maybe -- but they're six points up on ninth-place Winnipeg. So they're left playing big games seeing that it's playoff push time and all, but nothing all that impactful.

But you find ways to make them meaningful. For example, only one non-division winner is going host a first-round playoff series as the four seed. That's no doubt worth playing for. And that's what the Penguins are going after right now.

Their opponents on Wednesday night, however, have a lot greater sense of desperation. That's because the Stars enter the night in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the West (holding the tie-breaker with a game in hand). Dallas would be thinking about hopping into the division race if the Coyotes weren't hotter than the Phoenix summers. They have won four straight games and have gained no ground on the Coyotes.

Now none of the above means the Penguins are going to come coasting into the game while the Stars come guns a blazin'. They wouldn't be in the position their in if they did that ever. In today's NHL you can't do that against any team. It's just something to remember if you notice a difference in "compete level."

It also marks, by the way, the first time that James Neal has come back to Dallas to face his old team (and Matt Niskanen, of course). Seeing the season that Neal is having with his brand new contract extension has to be a little painful for the Dallas faithful thinking of what could have been.

Oh and don't forget about Evgeni Malkin. He has five goals and two assists in his last three games. I hear he's good.

8 ET, Toronto at Chicago

This game should be sponsored by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Free Falling could be the theme song.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a tail spin that Chuck Yeager would have a hard time pulling out of. They've lost five in a row, most in ugly fashion. They've lost nine of their last 10 games. The fans are chanting for the coach to be fired. They are on the verge of falling completely out of the playoff race, going into tonight's game four points behind eighth-place Washington. The Leafs are as close right now to 14th in the East as they are eighth.

Well OK, I guess it's a pretty typical end of February in Canada's biggest city.

But let's not forget about America's Second City here and Chicago. They are going through their own swoon. They have only four wins in their last 16 games and bring a three-game losing streak into the battle with the Leafs.

If they were to get no points tonight, the Blackhawks would legitimately have to start worrying about being on the playoff bubble. Right now they are only three points up on teams 8-10 and will have played more games than all of them. When teams come into Chicago this out of sorts, the Blackhawks need to be able to deliver the next blow.

I'm not sure who is more desperate for the two points tonight.

Others worth watching

9:30 ET, St. Louis at Edmonton: The Blues are in fight for the Central Division crown with the Red Wings and have finally found their form on the road. They've won three straight away from home but the Oilers seem like a perfect team to play spoiler the rest of the way.

10 ET, Buffalo at Anaheim: To be frank, but of these teams is all but done in the playoff race. It would be remarkable if either made it in. But I'm still going to dub this a "loser leave town" match. Don't win this game and you can definitely forget about it.

Your promised miscellany

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: February 19, 2012 10:26 am
Edited on: February 19, 2012 11:12 am
 

Pens re-sign Neal for six seasons, $30 million

Neal was given a big reason to smile by Pens GM Ray Shero. (US Presswire)

By Brian Stubits

While most teams are busy shoring up their rosters for the remainder of this season with the trade deadline just over a week away, the Pittsburgh Penguins have taken a big step toward shoring up their roster for the next half decade.

The Penguins announced on Sunday morning that they have re-signed breakout forward James Neal to a six-year extension worth $30 million. That's a cool $5 million per season. (As a side note, I just love how the Penguins release this information, it will get out either way, might as well control it.)

"I love everything about what goes on here and how we play the game," Neal said. "I just couldn’t see myself anywhere else."

Acquired from the Stars at last year's trade deadline along with Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligosky, Neal has taken his game to a higher level with the Pens. Not to say that he wasn't a good prospect already. By the time this season began, he already had 73 goals before turning 24 years old.

But this season he has already eclipsed his career bests in goals with 30 and points (56) while he's just two away from matching his best assist tally of 28. He was a late fill-in for the All-Star Game roster, his first such honor.

"As we've gotten to know Neal over past year, he really fits with our group," general manager Ray Shero told the team's website. "It's really difficult to find players like this. Neal has size, uncanny release, heavy shot, goes to the net hard, can skate. There's a lot to like even beyond the 30 goals."

I actually really like this deal for the Penguins. Some might think it's a leap of faith to give Neal $5 million amidst his first 30-goal season of his career, but he's been in the mid-to-high 20s in all of his previous seasons and he was still just a pup playing in Dallas. It's not a bold prediction to say Neal is on his way to being a consistent 30-goal scorer.

What it does mean for the Penguins is that they aren't going to have much maneuvering room this summer and next season, as it stands now. According to Cap Geek, the Pens already have $59,566,667 committed to next season's payroll. If the cap were to stay the same -- and who knows with CBA negotiations looming -- that leaves them less than $5 million. Meanwhile, Steve Sullivan, Arron Asham, Richard Park, Cal O'Reilly, Niskanen and Brent Johnson are all free agents of some kind.

But that doesn't mean that I dislike this signing at all. I think it's a very reasonable amount of money for the Penguins, actually. A simple projection out shows this season isn't likely to be a fluke. A $5 million salary for a potential 40-goal scorer is practically a bargain in the NHL these days.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 19, 2012 10:26 am
Edited on: February 19, 2012 11:12 am
 

Pens re-sign Neal for six seasons, $30 million

Neal was given a big reason to smile by Pens GM Ray Shero. (US Presswire)

By Brian Stubits

While most teams are busy shoring up their rosters for the remainder of this season with the trade deadline just over a week away, the Pittsburgh Penguins have taken a big step toward shoring up their roster for the next half decade.

The Penguins announced on Sunday morning that they have re-signed breakout forward James Neal to a six-year extension worth $30 million. That's a cool $5 million per season. (As a side note, I just love how the Penguins release this information, it will get out either way, might as well control it.)

"I love everything about what goes on here and how we play the game," Neal said. "I just couldn’t see myself anywhere else."

Acquired from the Stars at last year's trade deadline along with Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligosky, Neal has taken his game to a higher level with the Pens. Not to say that he wasn't a good prospect already. By the time this season began, he already had 73 goals before turning 24 years old.

But this season he has already eclipsed his career bests in goals with 30 and points (56) while he's just two away from matching his best assist tally of 28. He was a late fill-in for the All-Star Game roster, his first such honor.

"As we've gotten to know Neal over past year, he really fits with our group," general manager Ray Shero told the team's website. "It's really difficult to find players like this. Neal has size, uncanny release, heavy shot, goes to the net hard, can skate. There's a lot to like even beyond the 30 goals."

I actually really like this deal for the Penguins. Some might think it's a leap of faith to give Neal $5 million amidst his first 30-goal season of his career, but he's been in the mid-to-high 20s in all of his previous seasons and he was still just a pup playing in Dallas. It's not a bold prediction to say Neal is on his way to being a consistent 30-goal scorer.

What it does mean for the Penguins is that they aren't going to have much maneuvering room this summer and next season, as it stands now. According to Cap Geek, the Pens already have $59,566,667 committed to next season's payroll. If the cap were to stay the same -- and who knows with CBA negotiations looming -- that leaves them less than $5 million. Meanwhile, Steve Sullivan, Arron Asham, Richard Park, Cal O'Reilly, Niskanen and Brent Johnson are all free agents of some kind.

But that doesn't mean that I dislike this signing at all. I think it's a very reasonable amount of money for the Penguins, actually. A simple projection out shows this season isn't likely to be a fluke. A $5 million salary for a potential 40-goal scorer is practically a bargain in the NHL these days.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 17, 2012 11:05 am
Edited on: February 17, 2012 11:13 am
 

Don't get too excited about that 2nd round pick

Shea Weber is the exception, not the rule for 2nd round success (Getty Images)
By: Adam Gretz

The most popular piece of currency that gets passed around (or is rumored to be passed around) the NHL this time of year is the second-round draft pick.

On Thursday alone we saw two deals go down involving such a pick when San Jose picked up Dominic Moore from the Lightning, and the Flyers acquired defenseman Nicklas Grossman from the Dallas Stars.

It's pretty much the going rate for a veteran rental that can provide some depth, and if your team is one of the ones that ends up coming out of the trade deadline season with such a pick, it's probably best to keep your expectations within reason. Because there is a pretty good chance that it will turn out to be nothing. Or next to nothing.

Just taking a random 10-year sampling of NHL drafts, there were over 340 players selected during the second-round between 1995 and 2005. Of those players, 122 of them never played a game in the NHL. Or, in other words, over 35 percent. That, of course, doesn't count the players that did appear in the NHL but never established themselves as regulars. There were another 122 players that made an appearance in the league but have played fewer than 100 games.

Add those two groups together and that's roughly 70 percent of the players that were selected in the round over a full decade. Not exactly great odds, especially when you consider that the picks exchanging hands in these situations are more often than not near the middle or back end of the round. Most of the impact players that were chosen during the stretch I selected here (guys like Shea Weber, James Neal, Patrice Bergeron, Derek Roy, just as a few examples) were picked within the first 15 picks of the round.

If you think your team is a contender, the thought of giving up a mid-to-late second-round pick shouldn't be much of a concern or stop you from making the move, which is probably why you see so many of them moved every February.

So why would the team on the other side be so willing to accept it? Well, that's simple. If you have a player like Moore that's set to become a free agent, and you know you're going to lose him in the summer, and you know your team is going nowhere for the remainder of that season, it's better to get an asset that gives you a chance (even if it's as low as 30 percent) of finding a future NHL player than losing an asset for absolutely nothing, which of course gives you a zero percent chance of finding a future player.

Also at Eye On Hockey

Moore traded to Sharks
Grossman traded to Flyers
NHL Trade tracker

Latest NHL rumors and news

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 31, 2012 10:37 pm
Edited on: January 31, 2012 10:38 pm
 

Disallowed goal, late collapse costly for Leafs



By: Adam Gretz

Pretty much every game is a playoff game for the Toronto Maple Leafs right now.

They entered Tuesday's game in Pittsburgh in a three-way tie with New Jersey and Florida for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, and every possible point is a must. That's why their 5-4 shootout loss against the Penguins was not only costly, but most certianly frustrating. Not only because they didn't gain the two points against one of the many teams they're chasing in the standings, but also because they blew a three-goal third period lead with 10 minutes to play on a night that they completely dominated for the first 50 minutes.

Mikhail Grabovski scored a pair of goals, and thanks to third period tallies from Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak the Leafs opened up a 4-1 lead mid-way through the third period and looked to be well on their way to an important win. And then everything started to collapse. Goals from Steve Sullivan and Joe Vitale brought the Penguins to within one, and then a shot from James Neal deflected off the shoulder of Evgeni Malkin and beat Jonas Gustavsson with just six seconds to play to send the game to overtime and eventually the tiebreaking shootout.

One of the biggest plays of the game, and the one that received plenty of attention after the fact, happened early in the first period when Bozak had what would have been the first goal of the night disallowed for goaltender interference (shown above). If you watch the replay, it's hard to see what, exactly, led to the call.

After the game Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson was asked what explanation he received from the refs.

"We bumped into their goalie, and we didn't," said Wilson. "And then it changed to we pushed their defenseman into the goalie, and that didn't happen either. There's nothing you can do, you play on, but just in hindsight right now it's an important goal that got waved off."

Joffrey Lupul, the player that was called for the interference simply said "bad call," when asked about the play.

"Refs make mistakes too, but I didn't touch the goalie," added Lupul. "I don't know if their defenseman skated into him or not, but as far as I know it was a mistake."

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 27, 2012 3:13 pm
Edited on: January 27, 2012 3:39 pm
 

All-Star Game preview: Finding lines to entertain

By Brian Stubits

When it comes to All-Star Games, the NHL is probably in the middle. It's certainly a notch below the holy grail of games, baseball's Midsummer Classic, but it's undoubtedly ahead of football's Pro Bowl. Like the NBA's version, defense isn't even optional, it's pretty much discouraged.

So truth be told, people don't watch the All-Star Game for the hockey. Really, mid-week games featuring the Blue Jackets and Oilers will provide a better game (not necessarily entertainment, however). Instead, fans watch it for the Stars , the chance to see their favorite players.

Or to see things we never get the chance to see.

Thanks to the Fantasy Draft, the possibilities exist for some squeamish line combinations that wouldn't otherwise have been feasible. Such as Bruins playing with Canucks. However seeing as one of the two captains was a Bruin, we missed out on some golden opportunity to have Zdeno Chara paired with Alex Edler while playing with Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Tyler Seguin in front of them with Tim Thomas in net. Oh, if Chara could have only seen the potential.

What Chara did end up doing was drafting a host of right wingers, making this pre-draft incredibly awkward exchange all the more apropos.

With all that said, thanks to our Line Mixmaster 3000 (patent pending) we were able to come up with some interesting lines with the teams that were selected -- and some lines that make you go "meh." Hey, you can't win them all.

(Do note we had to execute some position changes to get four even lines. But to Joffrey Lupul and Daniel Alfredsson: I see what you did. Lupul only helped Chara draft one left winger and Alfredsson only picked one right winger. Sorry fellas, you can't triple shift.)

Let's start with Team Alfredsson, considering he's the host and all.

As Seen in Ottawa line: Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson. Intrigue? Nah, there's not a whole lot on this one, frankly. Senators fans can see these guys together most every night. But you have an entire line of guys not out of position in their hometown ... it's a lock. But hopefully they keep the mic on Spezza during the game like he had it on in the draft and this time we can hear a full-out laugh. That's interesting enough.

Third Wheel line: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Logan Couture. OK, I'll relent and keep the Sedins together. The best third wheel for them is Couture. You have the whole Predators of the sea thing (Canucks' killer whale vs. the Sharks), the little rivalry between their teams and, well, just another way to pick on Couture a little bit after he was Mr. Irrelevant. Sorry Henrik, I don't think you're going to get those better players to play with this year (It's OK, Daniel, you can smile!).

I Believe I Can Fly line: Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, John Tavares. I had a harder time naming this line than any of the others (no doubt it shows). But the Flyers connection is pretty clear and they get an Atlantic Division friend in the mix in Tavares, somebody who has wheels that just might inspire Hartnell to try and skate faster and contribute to the Hartnell Down-O-Meter. Tavares converts to the wing to make it happen, a pretty easy transition from center.

The Forgotten line: James Neal, Steven Stamkos, Jason Pominville. Neal was the guy who the NHL just didn't seem to want to invite. It took the last replacement spot for Neal to get the call despite being second in the league in goals scored. Stamkos is the only guy with more goals than Neal and yet he's such a quiet superstar that some might not even be aware of that fact. As for Pominville? Well it's been a forgettable season in Buffalo so far, so he fits in here.

Defensive pairings: This is really a hodgepodge of names when put together, there's not a whole lot that screams out for obvious potential pairings. So I've got Shea Weber with Alex Edler (Western Conference the tie that binds), Erik Karlsson with Kris Letang (excessive use of the letter K) and Dan Girardi with Keith Yandle (ummm, they were each in that game that was won with 0.1 seconds left this season).

Now on to Team Chara. Here are the lines that we can put together, seeking maximum intrigue.

Cyborg line: Corey Perry, Pavel Datsyuk, Jarome Iginla. The cyborg obviously references the man in the middle, but it also includes one of the league's ageless wonders in Iginla plus a guy with a connection to Disney. Hey, we have to make some stretches. The only person out of position here is Perry, being forced to the left wing because of Chara's right-side glut.

Miss-match line: Jamie Benn, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik. Yea, there isn't a whole lot of connections with this line except Malkin and Gaborik are both from Eastern Europe. But hey, good for Benn to play his first game in weeks alongside the best player in the NHL the last couple of weeks in Malkin. He'll take it, I'm sure.

Two Blackhawks and a Kid line: Jordan Eberle, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa. So this line has a couple of players "out of position" but Kane is no stranger to center. We had to convert somebody to the middle and he's the easy pick seeing that he's played there this season. He gets to be alongside his Chicago buddy Hossa. Poor Eberle, he might not get to see the puck with these two guys. That won't make his fan club president (on the right) too happy.

Blackhawks and ladies? No doubt this will be Joey the Junior Reporter's favorite line to follow.

The Awkward line: Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel. We saved the best for last. Yes, consider this the coup-de-grace of interesting lines. The two players -- Seguin and Kessel -- who will forever be tied to each other thanks to the trade between the Maple Leafs and Bruins, alongside another Leaf in Lupul.

“I said ‘Kess, I think we’re linemates,'" Seguin said to Kessel on Thursday (from the Boston Herald). "He said ‘That be cool. I think the media would like it.’”

Yes, Phil, yes we would.

Defensive pairings: Well we have to put Chara with Dion Phaneuf. Again, it's the Leafs-Bruins angle but also two of the more fearsome defensemen in the league. Good pairing. Ryan Suter gets paired with Kimmo Timmonen so they can find out if there is any chemistry there in case Philly is Suter's landing spot if he's traded. That leaves Brian Campbell to pair with Dennis Wideman. All I got here is Campbell is a current Panthers defenseman and Wideman used to be one.

As for a goalie to be mic'd up like Cam Ward was last year? I'm going to vote for Carey Price. Hey, any guy that does a campaign video like this and nearly spits his drink out when he's picked in the draft is probably entertaining enough to help carry the event for a period.

Enjoy the game. It will be a lot easier with some of the above intrigue. But please, leave your gripes about the lack of defense at home, we all know it's sorely lacking.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 26, 2012 9:23 pm
Edited on: January 27, 2012 11:42 am
 

2012 NHL All-Star Rosters

By: Adam Gretz

We knew which players were going to be taking part in the All-Star game this season, but we had no idea which team they would be playing for and who they would be playing against. It was all settled in Ottawa on Thursday night as Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson and Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, the two captains for this year's game, made their selections as you can see below in the order they were picked.

Chara won the coin toss and ended up with the first selection and chose Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk, and continued to load up on offense in the early rounds going with Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa and Phil Kessel.

Kessel, of course, was the last pick in the All-Star draft a year ago, but went in the eighth round this season. The last man standing this season was San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture

Two developments that should not have been a surprise to anybody: First, The Vancouver-Boston rivalry that started in last year's Stanley Cup Finals, and carried over into this season as we saw in their regular season matchup a couple of weeks ago, continued on as Chara did not pick a single Canuck.

That means that unlike last year when they were split up, the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, will play on the same team as they've always done throughout their time in the NHL.

Also not a surprise: Alfredsson made sure to pick every Senator in the game, ending up with Erik Karlsson (his first pick), Jason Spezza (his second pick) and Milan Michalek.

2012 NHL All-Star Rosters
Team Alfredsson Team Chara
Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers, Goalie)* Joffrey Lupul (Maple Leafs, Forward)*
Erik Karlsson (Senators, Defense) Pavel Datsyuk (Red Wings, Forward)
Jason Spezza (Senators, Forward) Tim Thomas (Bruins, Goalie)
Jonathan Quick (Kings, Goalie) Evgeni Malkin (Penguins, Forward)
Claude Giroux (Flyers, Forward) Marian Hossa (Blackhawks, Forward)
Kris Letang (Penguins, Defense) Kimmo Timonen (Flyers, Defense)
Steven Stamkos (Lightning, Forward) Corey Perry (Ducks, Forward)
Brian Elliott (Blues, Goalie) Carey Price (Canadiens, Goalie)
Shea Weber (Predators, Defense) Phil Kessel (Maple Leafs, Forward)
Daniel Sedin (Canucks, Forward) Ryan Suter (Predators, Defense)
Dan Girardi (Rangers, Defense) Jimmy Howard (Red Wings, Goalie)
Keith Yandle (Coyotes, Defense) Brian Campbell (Panthers, Defense)
Milan Michalek (Senators, Forward) Patrick Kane (Blackhawks, Forward)
Henrik Sedin (Canucks, Forward) Dion Phaneuf (Maple Leafs, Defense)
James Neal (Penguins, Forward) Jarome Iginla (Flames, Forward)
Alex Edler (Canucks, Defense) Dennis Wideman (Capitals, Defense)
John Tavares (Islanders, Forward) Marian Gaborik (Rangers, Forward)
Scott Hartnell (Flyers, Forward) Jordan Eberle (Oilers, Forward)
Jason Pominville (Sabres, Forward) Tyler Seguin (Bruins, Forward)
Logan Couture (Sharks, Forward) Jamie Benn (Stars, Forward)

(*Assistant Captain)

More NHL All-Star Game Coverage


For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 25, 2012 11:15 am
Edited on: January 25, 2012 11:16 am
 

Neal named to All-Star Game in place of Ovechkin

Neal has 27 goals this season, 13 on the power play. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

It took way too long in almost everybody's estimation, but James Neal was finally named an All-Star on Wednesday. He was given a spot in the game thanks to Alex Ovechkin abstaining after his suspension.

From the moment the All-Stars were announced, people immediately wondered why the Penguins' leading goal scorer wasn't on the list. As of Wednesday, he's only tied with Jonathan Toews for the second most goals in the league with 27.

"We thought he was an All-Star when they first named the team," coach Dan Bylsma said on Tuesday.

Better late than never, I suppose.

It's funny to me how people feign disinterest in the All-Star Game but then get worked up when players don't get the nod to play in it. Neal's exclusion put that whole idea on display.

Neal gets the late addition to the game the day after Scott Hartnell had the same happen with him, replacing Jonathan Toews. Both players are in the top 10 in goal scoring this season and were seen as probably the two biggest omissions to the initial list. Circumstances allowed that to be corrected.

Neal will now join Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang as representing the Penguins in Ottawa.

More from Eye on Hockey

Ovechkin withdraws from All-Star Game
Hartnell replaces Toews for game
More All-Star Game coverage

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com