Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Neal Comfortable with Team, Contract

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Neal Comfortable with Team, Contract

Article excerpt

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- James Neal understood that waiting wouldn't give him much leverage.

After all, he was scheduled to become a restricted free agent -- not an unrestricted one -- July 1, and those guys rarely receive outrageous contract offers or switch teams.

Didn't seem to matter, though.

Neal sounds like a guy who likely would have accepted the six- year, $30 million contract he got from the Penguins Sunday, regardless of the circumstances.

That is why, he said, he didn't bother finding out what the market for him might have been this summer.

"I'm just so comfortable in Pittsburgh," he said. "With the commitment the organization is going to give me, it couldn't be a better feeling. I couldn't find a better spot. Pittsburgh is where I wanted to be."

And the Penguins clearly want to have him there, which is why general manager Ray Shero gave Neal a deal that will pay him $5 million in each season, and includes a modified no-trade clause that kicks in for the final three seasons.

"It's one less thing we need to look at in the summer," Shero said. "But even if it would have gone to the summer, we would have gotten it done."

He added that negotiations on the deal, which takes effect in the 2012-13 season, ran about four to six weeks.

Neal had one assist in the Penguins' 6-2 loss to Buffalo Sunday at the First Niagara Center, but has a career-high 30 goals, which just happens to be what coach Dan Bylsma was hoping to get from him coming into this season.

"Thirty was a kind of tentative number," Bylsma said. "The number he gave back to me was different from that number. He's not there yet."

Neal's target number still isn't known, but unless it's completely unrealistic, he probably has a good shot at reaching it. He has teamed with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz to form one of the most productive lines in the NHL.

"When you find chemistry with a guy [like Malkin], you want to play with him for a long time," Neal said. "We've [had] some good chemistry from the start of the season, and it's just gotten better. …

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