The Pittsburgh Penguins have been in Sidney Crosby limbo for over year now, save about two weeks. They had to look elsewhere last season when they acquired James Neal — along with Matt Niskanen — from the Dallas Stars for Alex Goligoski, and although it didn’t pay dividends last season, it sure has this year as Neal has become a star in the league. These results have led to the Penguins locking up the 24-year-old to a six-year, $30 million contract through 2017-18.
Penguins fans didn’t see much of Neal last season. After heading east, Neal only registered one goal and six points in 20 games in Pittsburgh. This season, though, Neal has exploded for 30 goals and 56 points in just 58 games, leading to his first All Star game in his short career, while developing into a force with Evgeni Malkin.
With a cap-hit of just $5 million per season, Neal gave Pittsburgh the hometown discount, as Neal would have commanded even more than that on the open marker when he would have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
“As we’ve gotten to know Neal over past year, he really fits w our group, really difficult to find players like this,” said Penguins GM Ray Shero to Sam Kasan of the Penguins. “Neal has size, uncanny release, heavy shot, goes to net hard, can skate. Lot to like even beyond the 30 goals.”
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