Flames’ James Neal’s injury not expected to be long-term

James Neal won't return for the Flames after an innocent-looking collision with Jayce Hawryluk left him injured.

Calgary Flames forward James Neal isn’t expected to be out long-term with the upper-body injury that kept him out of the lineup on the weekend.

Neal was forced to leave a game against the Arizona Coyotes on Valentine’s Day against the Florida Panthers after a collision with defenceman Jayce Hawryluk. He then missed the Flames’ games against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 16 and Arizona Coyotes Monday, and isn’t expected to play against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

The length of Neal’s time out of the lineup could be key to the Flames, as it has been speculated that if the injury was more serious, he could be placed on long-term injured reserve, something the Chicago Blackhawks infamously did with Patrick Kane ahead of their run to the Stanley Cup in 2015. This would open up Neal’s $5.75 million cap space to be spent on another player ahead of the NHL trade deadline, and allow Neal to return for the first round of the playoffs, where the salary cap isn’t applied.

But that scenario now doesn’t appear to be in the cards for Calgary.

Neal has had a disappointing season with the Flames, his first since signing a five-year, $28.75 million contract in July. The 31-year-old came into this season having registered eight consecutive 21-or-more goal seasons, but so far this year, he has only five goals in 55 games.

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