Things have fallen sharply for veteran forward James Neal since his storybook season with the inaugural Vegas Golden Knights. After scoring 25 goals and 44 points in 2017-18 to mark his 10th consecutive season of scoring 20 or more goals, Neal signed a now-infamous five-year, $28.75MM deal with the Calgary Flames on the second day of free agency in 2018. He only lasted one season in Calgary on that contract, however, scoring just seven goals and 19 points, sometimes serving as a healthy scratch.
But many thought redemption was in order for Neal when a swap with the Edmonton Oilers sent him to Northern Alberta in exchange for Milan Lucic. With the chance for Neal to play with one or both of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, 20 goals or more was again the expectation for the consistently gifted scorer. Neal didn’t quite hit the mark, but would’ve if the season hadn’t been cut short due to COVID-19 – his bounce-back season in Edmonton saw him score 19 goals and 31 points in 55 games, numbers reminiscent of his time in Vegas.
However, Neal’s decline accelerated this season, and his numbers once again plummeted to unacceptable depths for his $5.75MM cap hit. He’s now a free agent after being bought out by the Oilers on July 27th, a buyout that’ll see Neal cost them $1.917MM against the cap for the next four seasons. 2020-21 was Neal’s roughest season yet, actually, spending almost half of the 56-game season sitting in the press box. His shooting percentage and time on ice fell sharply as Neal’s lack of strong play-driving cost him a significant role at even strength.