Is James Neal a Target for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Bleacher ReportContributor IJuly 14, 2010

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 17:  James Neal #18 of the Dallas Stars against the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on December 17, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Brian Burke still hasn’t been presented with what he deems to be a "fair" trade offer for Tomas Kaberle, but he may have found a dancing partner.

According to reporter Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars have offered restricted free-agent forward James Neal a two-year contract worth $2.5 million per season. Neal apparently wants a “longer term deal for more money.”

Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk would like to re-sign the two-time 20 goal scorer to a multi-year contract, although his hands are tied because Stars Owner Tom Hicks has the team in bankruptcy, while attempting to sell them.

The Leafs have the luxury of spending to the cap limit and may capitalize on the Stars situation by trading for James Neal or signing him to an offer sheet. Neal would ultimately fill the Leafs need for another top-six forward to compliment Phil Kessel. The 22-year old scored 27 goals and 28 assists for 55 points in 78 games last season. He is 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, so has the size and skill to project as a power forward.

Such a tantalizing package of skill is a coveted asset in today’s NHL, although the Stars already have a glut of wingersincluding Brenden Morrow, Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn, and eventually Scott Glenniethat make Neal expendable.

Dallas needs to fill a void on the blueline, as they are without an experienced puck-moving defenseman to quarterback the powerplay. The name that continues to swirl in trade rumors is Tomas Kaberle, who would add another element to a thin Stars defence. Joe Nieuwendyk is also very familiar with Kaberle and what he brings to a team from his days in Toronto.

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It remains to be seen what the Leafs could include in a package for James Neal. In the event that Tomas Kaberle and his agent refuse to sign an extension upon arriving in Dallas, Brian Burke may focus his attention towards sending an offer sheet to Neal.

The compensation for signing a player to an offer sheet between $1,545,981 and $3,091,963 million is a second-round draft choice in 2011.

The Leafs would have the ability to make this offer because they own their own second rounder next year. Only Toronto’s 2010 second rounder went to Boston, in the Phil Kessel trade.

Theoretically, if the Leafs offer a four-year contract worth $3.5 million per season, the Stars wouldn’t be able to match the offer sheet because it would put them over their internal budget. A second rounder is a reasonable loss when you are acquiring a future 30-goal scorer in exchange.

There is a true possibility that Neal becomes the Leafs next target if he doesn’t re-sign with Dallas. Just food for thought.