It appears safe to say James Neal doesn’t look back on his time in Calgary with much fondness.
The journeyman forward, who is currently attending Columbus Blue Jackets training camp on a PTO, appeared this week on “The Inside Edge” radio show with Jody Shelley and Bob McElligott on The Fan 97.1 in Columbus to discuss his new team.
During the conversation, Shelley asked Neal about what he sees in Johnny Gaudreau. The two were teammates during Neal’s lone year in Calgary, although they seldom took to the ice together — a fact Neal was quick to mention in response to Shelley’s question.
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“Johnny, I got to play with in Calgary,” Neal said, to which Shelley responded, “on his line?”
“Not much, no, no,” Neal continued. “Calgary was kind of the death of me when I went there. I was on the fourth line just trucking away. It’s been a battle since then.
“I went there to play on his line, that’s what I was signing, that’s what I thought I was gonna do,” Neal added. “He’s a special player, Johnny is. You know, he’s so deceptive, his IQ’s so high.”
The Flames signed Neal to a five-year deal carrying a $5.75 million annual cap hit on July 2, 2018. Coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances, the big winger scored just seven goals and 19 points in 63 games with the Flames in 2018–19 while posting some of the worst underlying numbers in the National Hockey League.
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Neal failed to register a point in four playoff contests with the Flames before being scratched for Game 5 against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round. With only one season gone on Neal’s big UFA deal, the Flames shipped him off to the Edmonton Oilers on July 19, 2019, receiving Milan Lucic and a conditional 2020 third-round draft pick in exchange.
Despite enjoying a brief renaissance with the Oilers in 2019–20, Neal struggled to remain in the lineup the following season and wound up scoring just five goals and 10 points in 29 games. The Oilers bought out the final two years of Neal’s contract during the 2021 off-season.
Neal split 2021–22 between the NHL and AHL in the St. Louis Blues organization, helping lead their top minor-league affiliate (the Springfield Thunderbirds) to the Calder Cup Final against the Chicago Wolves. Now 35, he’s still gunning for an NHL contract with the Blue Jackets while attending their training camp on a tryout basis.
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In 869 career NHL regular-season games with Dallas, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Vegas, Calgary, Edmonton, and St. Louis, Neal has scored 296 goals and 559 points. After surpassing 20 goals in each of his first 10 NHL seasons, Neal hasn’t reached that mark again in the four years since.