TAMPA, Fla. – As lucrative as the deal was that brought James Neal to Calgary, the offer he received late Saturday night was every bit as jaw-dropping.
Minutes after linesmen plucked several of his scattered teeth off the ice at Rogers Arena and handed them to the Flames bench staff, a gentleman a few rows up in the stands made a pitch for Neal’s chiclets.
"A guy offered me $500 for them," laughed Flames equipment manager Mark DePasquale, who turned down the pitch as another witness gagged at the sight.
Fact is, given the bulk rate he hopefully hauls in from the tooth fairy, he may be better off putting what’s left of them under his pillow.
"Eight went in that one," said Neal, revealing the extent of the damage in his first interview since an Alex Biega high stick provided Hockey Night in Canada footage that will live forever.
"I saw the video afterwards and it kind of caught me perfectly right across my whole row.
"When I got hit and was falling down I could see them going through the air.
"They were not salvageable – they were everywhere."
Cringe-worthy close-ups of curious Canadiana provided viewers with insight on just how much damage was done before Neal raced off the ice for repairs.
"I think there were three pieces and that’s all eight teeth as they are stuck together," explained Neal of his latest combo of bridge-work and posts extracted by an opponent.
"One of my posts went right through my gums.
"I don’t know where that one went. Maybe it’s still somewhere up there, I don’t even know."
Following several hours in a Tampa dentist’s chair Monday that allowed him to skip practice, Tuesday morning’s skate may have marked the first-time Neal was able to laugh at his latest misfortune.
"For whatever reason sticks like to hit me in the teeth and my mouth," said Neal, whose nightmarish season can be summed up by the fact the $28.75 million free agent signing has lost more teeth than he has goals (5).
"I think it’s the sixth time I’ve got my teeth all knocked out. It’s something I’m used to. I can’t even explain the hours I’ve logged in a dentist chair.
"It’s part of the game. It happens."
In fact, just last year he went through something similar, landing him a whole new smile coming in as a Flame.
"Last year I got a stick really bad and it went right into my mouth and it took out all my posts and ripped my gums," said Neal, who said he has no idea how many teeth he’s lost in his life.
"I had to have all my gums re-sewn on the top. I had surgery for that and then after that heals, the stitches out and then all the implants in and posts and roots canals. It has been a process."
Yet, both incidents pale in comparison to a smash mouth situation he endured as a rookie.
"My first-year Jamie Benn’s stick came back and hit me and I think I lost 13 in my first go, top and bottom," said Neal.
"Ever since then it’s been once a year, so hopefully it’s the last time this year."
No one doubts him when he says it’s something you never get comfortable with.
"There’s nothing worse than going to the dentist," said Neal, struggling to speak given the absence of teeth up top, and extensive stitching to his upper lip and gums.
"Just the amount of needles that have to go into your gums – it kind of ruins you for a few days.
"You’re home to your bed, and it’s really hard to eat. Just smoothies and soft food."
Yet, Neal will be in the lineup Tuesday, carrying a season-high three-game assist streak into Tampa against the top-ranked Lightning.
Hardly surprising given Neal returned to the game Saturday despite the third period injury and was even summoned to be the Flames’ third shooter in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Canucks.
Teammates were comfortable ribbing the 31-year-old winger Tuesday, suggesting the media would need subtitles or a translator to understand their frozen-faced friend.
"It’ll come," chuckled gap-toothed Travis Hamonic when asked to dispense advice to his marble-mouthed teammate.
"It’s crazy, it changes the way you speak because you use your tongue and the teeth aren’t there anymore. You walk around with a lisp for a couple weeks before you become normal. You learn."
Asked about losing his first three teeth as a rookie in the OHL, Steven Stamkos joked earlier in the day, "you know you’re a hockey player when you break your nose or lose your teeth."
You know you’re the Real Deal when someone offers cash for them.