After signing Jonathan Marchessault to a six-year, $30 million contract extension earlier this week, the questions becomes ‘What’s next?’ for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Center William Karlsson seems like a logical — and likely — candidate, but another player who might be ready to sign an extension is James Neal.
According to Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, contract negotiations between Neal and the Golden Knights have not yet started, but they could begin very soon. Here’s what Kypreos had to say during Saturday’s Saturday Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada:
You look at the success of the Vegas Golden Knights and you’ve already seen Brayden McNabb sign an extension, and then we saw Jonathan Marchessault go $30 million over six, so what’s next?
I can tell you no negotiations have started just yet, but they are expected to start soon.
Now keep in mind, this is a much more complicated negotiation than the first two that George McPhee went through. He’s going to be turning 31 in September, meaning George McPhee is not interested in going seven or eight years, but if he can bring the number right for James Neal, there is a possibility that he could sign a four or five year deal. But that would put the AAV in the vicinity of $6.5 million. Certainly possible if James Neal likes the dollar amount then the term.
Before I opine on what this could all mean for Neal and the Golden Knights, it’s important to reiterate nothing is solid yet and the numbers he’s thrown out there are not set in stone. However, given how well connected Kypreos is, I’d imagine those numbers are close.
From the Golden Knights’ perspective, talk about an unexpected turn. When McPhee selected Neal during this past summer’s expansion draft, there probably wasn’t much thought he would re-sign Neal to an extension as he hits free agency this summer.
But, a couple wins here, an eight-game win-streak there, and, boom, the Golden Knights are atop the Western Conference and discussion about who to lock up long-term is rampant.
With Neal registering 17 goals and 28 points through 40 games, the question is not about his production, but instead about his age and what term to sign him too. Kypreos mentioned McPhee would not be interested in signing Neal to a six- or seven-year deal, which isn’t surprising.
The $6.5 million range Kypreos mentioned does seem realistic. Players like Ryan Kesler ($6.875M AAV), Brandon Saad ($6M AAV), Joe Pavelski ($6M AAV), Milan Lucic ($6M AAV) and Alexander Radulov ($6.25M AAV) all earn a salary within that range.
Kesler, Lucic and Radulov are the best examples to use. Although Kesler is a two-way center, and will almost always command a higher contract because of his position, he did sign a six-year, $41.25 million contract at the age of 32. Yes, he did sign his deal on the open market, which is generally when teams are known to overpay, but his age is what’s important here.
As for Lucic, he signed his seven-year, $42 million deal when he was 28. Neal is three years older but you could argue that his skill-set will age better than Lucic’s will. It’s a subjective argument, but goal scorers do tend to come at a bit more of a premium price, too.
The best example of that is Radulov. The Russian winger signed a five-year, $31.25 million deal with the Dallas Stars this past offseason and, like Neal, is an offense first type player. Where things get interesting with Neal and Radulov is age. Radulov is 31 and Neal will be 31 at the start of next season, so perhaps Radulov’s deal from this past offseason is a good starting point for McPhee to use.
Outside of those players, though, it’s tough to compare Neal to anyone. He’s genuinely a unique case because of his age and the salary cap. In today’s NHL, most players who are like Neal are signed long-term in there mid-to-late 20s and they don’t become free agents until they’re in there mid 30s.
Then again, it seems like everything about the Golden Knights is unique this season. However, despite the way there story book season has gone thus far, McPhee faces a difficult task when it comes to negotiating Neal’s next contract.