When James Neal was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in last year’s expansion draft, it was believed the pending unrestricted free agent would likely be dealt prior to the trade deadline as a way to accumulate assets and bolster the long-term health of the franchise.
Its inaugural season has gone better than anyone had anticipated, however, and with the Golden Knights in a position to potentially win a division title, general manger George McPhee has a difficult decision to make regarding Neal’s future in Vegas.
“No negotiations have started just yet but they are expected to start soon,” Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported during the Headlines segment Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada.
The Golden Knights recently signed forward Jonathan Marchessault to a six-year, $30-million contract extension and defenceman Brayden McNabb to a four-year deal worth $10 million. Both Marchessault, 27, and McNabb, 26, were pending UFAs like Neal but Neal will be 31 years old at the beginning of next season so he’s less likely to garner a deal in the six- or seven-year range. A four- or five-year deal would be more likely, although Kypreos said in that case Neal’s cap hit would likely be in the $6.5-million range. Neal’s current cap hit is $5 million.
The veteran winger has 17 goals and 28 points through 40 games this season.