James Neal

James Neal is no longer a Nashville Predator.

Story written by Mark Harris

The Vegas Golden Knights selected James Neal in the NHL Expansion Draft. The news of the Predators losing one of their assistant captains came during the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.

The news doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. Neal was one of the biggest names left unprotected not only by Nashville but around the NHL for Vegas’ picking. Neal was one of 28 total players left unprotected by the Predators among the likes Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, Colton Sissons and Pontus Aberg to name a few.

There were multiple reports suggesting General Manager David Poile was in talks with the Golden Knights’ General Manager George McPhee to strike some sort of deal to keep Vegas away from Nashville’s highest regarded player, but it’s very clear McPhee wanted Neal.

What’s very interesting about this is that TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported earlier on Wednesday that “it remains to be seen how long he’s there” meaning he could be flipped to another team in the league for assets.

When looking at this from Vegas’ perspective however, selecting Neal makes a lot of sense. For starters, Neal is a power-forward sniper that has averaged just under 24 goals per season since breaking into the NHL in 2008. He brings an offensive punch to the Golden Knights immediately as well as veteran leadership qualities. Another angle to this puzzle is that Neal’s $5 million cap-hit helps Vegas reach the cap-floor of $55.4 million.

From a Nashville standpoint, this of course frees up a bit of money for the Preds – $22.7 million approximately – to go out and sign free-agents and one has to assume after the Stanley Cup Final run many players looking for a new landing spot would circle Nashville as a prime destination. It’s also worth remembering that both Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen are both restricted free-agents at the moment and the Preds will be looking to sign them as soon as possible.

Nevertheless, the Preds are going to miss Neal. He had 136 points (77 G, 59 A) in his 219 regular season games with Nashville. He was a huge piece of Nashville’s power play as well. It will be interesting to see which direction the Preds go to replace his production.