The Calgary Flames have signed sniping winger James Neal to a five-year contract worth $5.75 million per season.
The Flames get: a proven 30-goal scorer and a consistent 23-goal scorer. But let’s not get carried away and label him a 30-goal guy. Neal has done it twice in his career, once in 2011-12 when he scored 40 playing with Evgeni Malkin, and once in 2015-16. Neal is a great addition to the Flames and upgrades their top six significantly, but some of the reaction around social media is anointing him as some sort of savior.
This is what you’re getting with James Neal: a potential linemate for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan and if things click then that’s a 40-goal pace immediately. Bingo, there’s your money’s worth right there. But Neal is also a Band-Aid Boy. And not just any Band-Aid Boy, he’s in the running to join the Board of Directors (next time I update it I’ll put him there). Over the last five seasons he’s missed at least 11 games in four of them, and a total of 61 (or 12.2 per season). Over 70 games the 31-year-old (turns 31 in September) is probably a safe bet for 30 goals if he clicks on that line, and likely 60 points. And if he doesn’t click on the big line you’re looking at 25 goals, 50 points. As always. That’s solid, that’s a great addition – but that’s not a savior. Dial it back a bit, Twitter!
Fantasy Players Impacted: The situation in Calgary is clear in terms of who will be in their top six: wingers Johnny Gaudreau, Matt Tkachuk, James Neal, Elias Lindholm, and centermen Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund. Where the wingers line up will be the question. Lindholm is the only right-handed shot among those four wingers, so he’s a natural fit for the Gaudreau – Monahan line. Neal just proved that he could be a 25-goal scorer on a second line and he’s also had experience playing on his off wing. To me, things shake up like this:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Lindholm
Tkachuk – Backlund – Neal
I’m sure someone will link to a quote from Calgary management stating clearly how James Neal will be on the other line, but whatever. It can always start out that way in exhibition and the first 10 games of the season, and then get switched when there is a slump. This is how I see things shaking out for at least 42 of the 82 games, taking a long-term approach.
The upgrade here is to Mikael Backlund, or perhaps Derek Ryan if Ryan slots in there instead of him. His wingers are great. Tkachuk and Neal? Yes please! Even the third line looks pretty sweet now with Sam Bennett and Michael Frolik flanking Backlund or Ryan. Hardest hit is Mark Jankowski, who is coming off a fine rookie season and now needs the help of lineup injuries just to get 10 minutes of ice time as a sophomore. That’s a real shame. Troy Brouwer and Curtis Lazar have now become mostly irrelevant as the Flames have suddenly become a very deep team with solid defensemen and an underrated goaltender.
Prospect wingers who now have their work cut out for them include Andrew Mangiapane (who I had previously liked, until this Neal signing) and Austin Czarnik (a signing I loved just yesterday, and now kind of don’t).
Fantasy Players this helps, in order:
Fantasy Players this hurts, in order:
3. Andrew Mangiapane (prospect profile here)
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