When colleague Ryan Kennedy recapped the Winners and Losers from Day 1, the Calgary Flames fell on the positive side of the ledger. It was a relatively quiet day in Cowtown, the sneaky-good signing of Derek Ryan the most notable of the bunch on a day when four players were brought in. But the Flames’ good work didn’t end Sunday. In fact, as Day 2 of signing season opened, it’d be safe to say Calgary is back in the winner’s column again with the early morning signing of James Neal.
While Calgary hasn’t officially announced the signing yet, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported Monday that Neal and the Flames have come to terms on a five-year pact worth $5.75 million annually or $28.75 million over the lifetime of the deal. And all things considered, that’s a relatively small price to pay for Neal. It marks a less than $1 million raise — $750,000, to be exact — from his last contract, a six-year, $30-million deal inked back in 2012, and in terms of cap percentage, the signing actually comes in a bit more friendly financially than his last pact.
The win here for the Flames goes beyond getting decent value on Neal, however, as his signing addresses a major need in Calgary: scoring. Yes, the Flames have some natural scorers in their lineup and a dazzling duo in Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. But two top-tier players does not a team make, and the Flames had difficulty filling the net last season to the tune of the NHL’s fifth-lowest goal total and an average of 2.63 goals per game. The signing of Ryan on Sunday added some extra punch — he had 15 goals and 38 points last season — but Neal is a big bodied goal scorer who was built for life in the Western Conference.
In Neal, Calgary likely is set to add another 20 to 30 goals to their lineup. And though the high end may seem a bit far fetched given Neal has only cracked the 30-goal plateau twice in his career and is in the twilight of his prime, consider that Neal has scored at a better than 30-goal pace over the past five seasons combined. The issue hasn’t been his touch, and it almost certainly won’t be this time around if he ends up skating on a line with Gaudreau and Monahan. Rather, the issue has been staying healthy enough to actually get to that elusive 30th goal.
Really, health and age are the only downsides here for the Flames. He has only played more than 71 games in a season once in the past campaigns, missing a combined 61 games over that span. Age waits for no man, either, and Neal will be 31 before the start of the coming campaign with his new deal will carrying him through to his age 36 season. At that point, the $5.75 million cap hit might be a touch more untenable. Continued rise in the salary cap, however, could negate that issue entirely.
This is a move for the present, though, with competing while Gaudreau and Monahan are still in their prime the primary concern for Calgary. And for those reasons, adding Neal, who has been to back-to-back Stanley Cup finals and has been a key contributor during both runs, is another sound move by Flames GM Brad Treliving.