Pittsburgh Penguins winger James Neal is one of the five highest-paid players on the Pittsburgh roster, and he's been one of the team's best offensive players in parts of three seasons since being traded from Dallas in 2011.
But Neal is in trade rumors once again, this time from Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun. According to Garrioch's post-draft piece on Monday, Neal has been involved in enough trade discussions to warrant a mention about Ottawa as a potential landing spot.
Here's an excerpt from the Ottawa Sun report:
Speaking of the Penguins, they'll likely have to let left wing Pascal Dupuis go to free agency and there's plenty of talk they'll move winger James Neal before all is said and done. Neal is of interest to the Senators but Ottawa's priority is to sign captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Garrioch's trade chatter comes just days after Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that the Pens had no intentions of trading Neal in any deal:
Of course, things can certainly change quickly in the course of 10 days on the business side of professional sports. That being said, any kind of change with respect to Neal's job status should be checked at the door like the one-too-many-drinks guy at your local nightclub.
While there's certainly merit in preparing for the future by trading away players for draft picks (see 2013 NHL draft chatter for reference) and still more in getting value for a player who has high trade value, there's no reason for Pittsburgh to make Neal a trade candidate this offseason.
Only a five-year veteran in the NHL, Neal's place in the 2005 draft makes him seem like he's been around for a lot longer.
He burst on the scene with the Stars in 2008 as a rookie, scoring 24 goals and totaling 37 points in 77 games during his first full professional season. He followed that up with a 55-point, breakout season in 2009-10, before scoring 39 points in a half-season effort with Dallas in 2010-11.
Then-general manager Joe Nieuwendyk sent Neal to Pittsburgh with Matt Niskanen right before the trade deadline in 2011, getting back defenseman Alex Goligoski in a trade Dallas fans still hold contempt for.
Neal has gone on to score over 60 goals in 140 games and make the Eastern Conference All-Star team with the Pens, while Goligoski has been underwhelming at times as the two-way defenseman that Nieuwendyk promised Stars fans they would be getting for one of the league's hottest young power forwards.
Though Goligoski had a strong close to the 2012-13 season, it's hard to justify the trade as anything more than failure for Dallas when you look at what Neal has been doing on a team with two other stars (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin).
Looking back, you can really point to that trade as the former GM's undoing with Dallas.
As Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News and Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram conversed about on Twitter back in 2012, there's really only jokes to make about the decision to deal Neal from Dallas to Pittsburgh:
Heck, Bruce LeVine of 1310 AM in Dallas has had to publicly ask Stars fans to let the bad move go over two years since its inception:
Hopefully Pens GM Ray Shero doesn't make a similar mistake this offseason.
The "talk" that Garrioch mentions in his rumor section for the Sun is likely accurate, but based on what Neal has done for the Pens' second line alongside Malkin in two-plus seasons, that talk better be centered around a huge return package.
Mike Colligan of Forbes.com concurs:
It's no secret that goaltender and defender are areas of need for Pittsburgh this offseason, and if Neal nets you both of those things in a blockbuster deal, then it would be hard to say no after the events of the conference finals against Boston.
But that deal is anywhere but close if you look at the latest trade chatter. Garrioch notes that the Senators would have interest in Neal if a trade was to be had, but that implies that the Penguins would be shopping a guy who was on pace for another 70- to 80-point regular season had the NHL played a full schedule this year.
A concussion knocked Neal out of the Pittsburgh lineup in April, but he returned for the meat of the playoff run and again contributed strongly to the tune of 10 points in 13 games for the Pens.
Neal will be 26 when the 2013-14 NHL season begins, and his cap hit of $5 million is really a bargain over the next five seasons. Pittsburgh owns his rights through the 2017-18 season, and by that time Neal has the potential to have posted an 100-point season in Pittsburgh.
It's time to end the Neal trade talk before it begins.
Pittsburgh has work to do to upgrade the roster, and I'm certainly not advocating that Shero ignore any and all calls when it comes to potential suitors for Neal next season.
But with several big names in the spots that Pittsburgh wants already traded away and others at the mercy of the free-agent market, right now seems like it would be an impulse move to send Neal away for defensive help.
Anything can happen on the NHL trade front, but a Neal deal would be hard to justify based on his current level of production and talent—just ask the Dallas Stars.
Follow Bleacher Report FC Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.