Ray Shero announced today the Penguins have signed forward James Neal to a 6 year contract extension set to begin with the 2012/2013 season. Neal, who was due to become a Restricted Free Agent on July 1st had just scored his 30th goal of the season yesterday in Pittsburgh’s 6 – 4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
This will keep Neal locked up with the Penguins through the 2017/2018 season at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million per season, a very favorable cap hit considering the goal scoring tear that he is on this year.
Many would not have foreseen this deal coming after Neal, who was acquired just before the trade deadline last season along with defenseman Matt Niskanen in exchange for Alex Gologoski, only managed to put up one goal during the remainder of the regular season and followed that up with one more goal in the Penguins’ seven game series loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round of the playoffs.
Neal started off this season like a house afire scoring goals in eight consecutive home games, the second longest streak in team history, and he hasn’t slowed down since while forming one third of the most lethal scoring line in the NHL this year alongside Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz. He is currently tied for fourth in goals and tied for first overall in Powerplay goals with 13.