Two points lost to the Caps. Tough to get upset after an incredible effort from our Baby Pens, and the news of the James Neal trade. Game by game, we're gonna start to see some of the boys back. James Neal will be welcomed Wednesday vs San Jose. Paul Martin will most likely be back, and possibly Kunitz? Dustin Jeffrey and Mark Letestu are skating, and shouldn't be too far away. Then #87? Happy times ahead, kids.
Despite Versus giving the Capitals hand jobs all night about their stifling defense, the Pens owned a majority of the flow of the game. The Pens definitely had some extra getty-up in their step, maybe due to the trade announced hours prior, but they were forechecking and cycling like madmen all night. Yeah...the offensively handicapped Pens had a tough time generating a ton of quality scoring chances. But even the "SHOOT-THE-PUCK!" dorks in attendance were stymied with a blistering 39 shots on net. Neuroturd and the NHL's greatest defense were simply up to the task. I say Bravo. We still have the 2nd highest point total in the East, and we're close to braving the injury storm.
Enter James Neal...
We LOVE this deal. Gogo was a quality puck mover, but let's face it. He was our 5th d-man, and he was expendable. Letang, Orpik, Martin, and Zibby are all signed to long-term deals, and the emergence of Engelland as a legit NHLer makes this possible. Plus...we get a replacement in Matt Niskanen. Niskanen has had a pretty bad year, but he's got some pedigree (former 1st rounder) and he's only 24 yo (2 years Gogo's junior). It's also a great move personally for Niskanen, since he won't have to fret Crosby rag dolling him any more...
The kicker obviously is Neal. In Ray Shero, we trust. Remember the Kunitz / Tangradi for Ryan Whitney deal with Anaheim? Whitney was another one of these supposed "great puck movers that's SO hard to find." Whitney played a year for the Ducks, and was shipped off to exile in Edmonton. Time will tell, but our initial thought is this was another coup for Shero. Misc thoughts...
Even if Sid doesn't come back, this move makes sense. Neal is NOT a rental, and he's got 1 more year on his deal before becoming a RFA (same as Goligoski). For that matter, the same goes for Niskanen.
Neal's a proven goal scorer, netting 24 and 27 in his 1st two years. He's on pace to break that with 21 so far this year. He's only 23. He played along side a great center in Brad Richards, but logic tells you he can even be better on Sid's left side. 30 to 35 goal potential is not a stretch.
Kunitz is having a great year, albeit injury riddled. This probably makes Kunitz your 2nd line LW, which is probably more his speed anyway. But there is the option of leaving Kuni alongside Sid, and making Neal Geno's LW. Bylsma's gotta love the options. If Geno can't thrive with a better winger of this ilk, then the Malkin excuse makers will have to let it lie.
Salary cap wise, Niskanen spares them a little salary in comparison to Gogo (@ $300,000). At a $2.8 hit next year for Neal, something will have to give. I hate to say it, but among the forwards to go, I'm thinking Dupuis will be the casualty next year. I love Duper as a 2-way player. The guy back checks and kills penalties like a beast. But I'm guessing he'll demand more in the open market than someone like Talbot. A lot of people are down on Talbot, and rightfully so when looking at his numbers. But Talbot can be an effective and versatile 4th liner, plus I think you can get a discount with Talbo. He takes draws, can fill in on the wing, kills penalties, and no doubt he's a great locker room guy.
I'm also guessing Godard is a goner. I love Godard in his role, but with Engelland becoming a top flight heavyweight (and every night skater), his $750,000 becomes a casualty.
This also tells me Shero thinks Sid is coming back soon. FCKYA.
And finally, it tells me Shero is pretty happy with some of the W-B/S call ups. A few FAs I'd like to see signed for next year: Jeffrey (RFA), Conner (UFA), Sterling (UFA). All 3 can probably signed on the cheap. And don't forget Tangradi will probably fill a bigger role next year.
Supposedly, there are still Kovalev rumors floating around. PLEASE Ray, don't give up anything of value for this guy. Please.