Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal has eclipsed his career highs in goals and points in just 58 games this season, heading into restricted free agency this summer.
His timing is impeccable: Neal and the Penguins announced a 6-year contract extension worth $30 million on Sunday morning.
From the Penguins:
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.
Tuesday is the 1-year anniversary of the trade that sent Neal to the Penguins from the Dallas Stars along with n Matt Niskanen for defenseman Alex Goligoski. Looks like the Stars fans on Defending Big D were right on that one.
Via Sam Kasan of the Penguins, GM Ray Shero said:
As we've gotten to know Neal over past year, he really fits w our group, really difficult to find players like this. Neal has size, uncanny release, heavy shot, goes to net hard, can skate. Lot to like even beyond the 30 goals.
We asked Neal about his upcoming contract talks with the Penguins back in October, and he said: "I've been through it before. I'm sure they'll talk after the season. I leave that up to my agent and he'll take care of that and I'm sure he's dealt with Ray before." Looks like Shero wanted to get his house in order before then.
The Penguins have spent years trying to find the right chemistry match for Sidney Crosby on the wing. They have such a match with Neal and Evgeni Malkin. Check out the percentage of points Neal has scored with Malkin on the ice:
Thank you, Geno.
With the $5 million cap hit, the Penguins now have $59,566,667 committed in salary next season, leaving them with $4,733,333 in projected space according to Cap Geek.