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Poll: Who makes up for James Neal’s goals in Pittsburgh?

Aug 21, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT

Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin AP

When the Penguins dealt James Neal to the Nashville Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, it was viewed as a necessary change. Whether it was because of Neal’s penchant for playing things on the edge or not is up for debate, but one thing he did a lot of in Pittsburgh was score goals.

Over the past three seasons, no one in a Penguins uniform scored more goals than Neal. Not Chris Kunitz, not Evgeni Malkin, not even Sidney Crosby. Now with Neal in Music City, the question now is: Who picks up the slack?

The obvious answer would be Hornqvist. In Nashville, the big Swede was able to make a living parking around the net and scoring the dirty brands of goals guys like Tomas Holmstrom and Dino Ciccarelli became known for. With the Pens, putting him around the net while Malkin, Crosby, Kunitz, and Letang fire away could mean he becomes a power play beast.

Then there’s 2014 first-round pick Kasperi Kapanen. He has the speed and skill but he’s young and untested in the NHL. If he makes the team out of training camp it could be him. Then again, the Pens’ big guns of Crosby, Malkin, and Kunitz could just all step up themselves and make up the difference.

So who pulls it off the most? That’s what we want you to answer.

  1. lowenni - Aug 21, 2014 at 5:26 PM

    None of those five players. Answer: the Pittsburgh Penguins as a whole. They’re losing a 40 goal guy, someone who scored 40 goals in ADDITION to Crosby, Malkin, and Kunitz’s outputs. You can’t expect one of them to score an extra 25 goals or so and make up for it singlehandedly. The point of the Neal trade was to add depth, and the newfound DEPTH of the Penguins is what will replace his output. Not a single player. Kunitz, Crosby, Malkin, and probably Hornqvist should all be good for 30, and beyond them it’s up to guys like Beau Bennett, Nick Spaling, Brandon Sutter, and Pascal Dupuis to make up for Neal’s output.

    Also J.S. Giguere just officially confirmed his retirement and there should be an article about that cause the guy is an all around class act.

  2. killerpgh - Aug 21, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    The easiest answer is Hornqvist. But don’t think anyone really expects him to fully replace Neal’s goal producing. Neal has scored at a rate of .52, .46, and .5 goal per game over the past 3 season. The Penguins scored 242 goals last season and that was good enough for 5th in the NHL for team scoring. Even if you take away all of Neal’s goals and don’t factor in any replacements scoring the Pens would have scored 215 goals and that would have had them finishing 17th in the NHL for team scoring. For now I’m not worried about the Penguins putting the puck in the net. Hopefully the improved teams overall depth should be about the full the void by committee if not improve on last years numbers.

  3. pitpenguinsrulez - Aug 21, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    Neal’s 40 goal campaign came in a contract year. Once he got paid he changed. Hornqvist will pick up atleast half of that. Hopefully Malkin actually shoots the puck more rather than deferring it to someone else. The whole team will have to pick it up.

    • chanceoffleury - Aug 21, 2014 at 9:41 PM

      As much as I’d love to pretend that it was just him in a contract year, it’s not really true. He produced at essentially the same rate in 2013 and 2014, which were the first 2 years of the contract he signed in 2012. His goal scoring void will not be easy to fill, but I think the Pens will figure it out in due time. They lost a big chunk of their producing core and their most elite and pure goal scorer. I think they’ll score goals, there just wont be as many pretty highlight real ones. They’re gonna have to do something besides draw a penalty then cycle through tic tac toe passes on the powerplay before setting Neal up for a wrister. I agree his head got bigger and his attitude got more entitled over time, though. As much of a piece of the core as he was production wise, he was arguably *the* core of their attitude problems. He encompassed a lot of things that people hated about the Pens.

      I really did like him at the end of the day, though. So I hope he pulls a Seguin and finds his place in Nashville. Hopefully he sees it as an opportunity to separate himself from Malkin’s shadow and be a game changer for an organization that desperately needs somebody with his shoot first mentality. Its a case where I’d really like to see the trade work out for both sides.

    • JoeAvg - Aug 22, 2014 at 10:40 AM

      Have to agree with chanceoffleury, Neal was pretty consistent once he got passed that first partial season with the Pens. Problem was, with a couple of exceptions, he was consistently absent in the playoffs.

      And Malkin did not defer when paired with Neal. Not sure where that misconception came from, though a lot people seem to have it.

  4. penguins87and71 - Aug 21, 2014 at 5:46 PM

    This is where I’m worried about the Penguins. I like there defense, but I just don’t know who is going to fill the shoes of Neal or even Niskanen who helped to put some goals into the net. Crosby and Malkin will put their fair share in, but they can’t do it alone. Kunitz and Hornqvist will put their fair share in, but either then those 4 players I don’t know where the goals are going to come from. Dupuis is coming off an ACL tear, Bennett is injury prone, Sutter is not a known goal scorer, and Spaling is a young player. Letang could help if he stays healthy, but that’s a big if. I could see them struggling this coming year to score goals. They’re going to have to win with with defense and goaltending. Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Kunitz, Hornqvist, and Sutter can’t get injured, or the Penguins are in serious trouble.

    • JoeAvg - Aug 22, 2014 at 10:51 AM

      Aw ‘cmon dude. Do you really think Niskanen is a better defenseman than Ehrhoff? Offensively or defensively? I got news for you, Ehroff @ $4m was the steal of free agency this summer.

  5. killerpgh - Aug 21, 2014 at 5:48 PM

    1 interesting thing I will be to watching this year is Malkin. In 2011-12 Malkin Shot the puck a ton. 339 Shots on Goal in 75 games (4.5 shots on goal per game) that year and scored 50 goals. Last season Malkin was giving (almost forcing) the puck to Neal way to much, imo. Last year Malkin only had 191 SoG in 60 games (3.1 shot on goal per game) and put up 23 goal.

  6. jacketsfan7 - Aug 21, 2014 at 6:12 PM

    Hornqvist spaling and a healthy beau Bennett will help replace James Neal

    • hockey412 - Aug 22, 2014 at 12:05 PM

      A healthy Beau would be nice. Starting to wonder if we’ll ever see it. I have to tell you, watching Kapanen at prospect camp was really something – he’s what they need there. Whether they pull the trigger on it is a different story.

  7. live4hockey - Aug 21, 2014 at 7:33 PM

    Neal was a ~25 goal guy in Dallas before he came to Pittsburgh…He will go back to that in Nashville. If Hornqvist gets time with Malkin or Sid, he could easily be a 35 goal guy IMO.

    • JoeAvg - Aug 22, 2014 at 11:01 AM

      Yeah I think Hornqvist is gonna surprise a lot of people. He flew under the radar in Nashville.

      If Neal does revert to 25 goals, that would speak volumes about the state of the Preds.The thing about playing with elite players is that not only do you benefit from being on the ice with them, you become a better player yourself. You only need to look as far as Pascal Dupuis for a prime example of that. I think Neal will be just fine if he stays outta trouble.

      • 19to77 - Aug 22, 2014 at 12:15 PM

        Yeah, but on the other hand, we’re talking about James Neal. Staying out of trouble isn’t on the table.

  8. sabatimus - Aug 21, 2014 at 7:52 PM

    The real question is, who makes up for the suspension/penalty time Neal takes away from the team?

    • professorconfusion - Aug 22, 2014 at 3:48 PM

      Well, they DID sign Steve Downie.

  9. stixzidinia - Aug 22, 2014 at 12:10 AM

    They don’t need to make up all of his goals. James Neal couldn’t even touch those numbers before he played on Malkin’s wing, and he’ll never come close again……especially not in Nashville. He hit 40 once. And he’ll never come close again.

  10. rushledger - Aug 22, 2014 at 3:34 AM

    It will be by committee Neal’s 25-40 goals will be spread around. Malkin set up many of them so Hornquist will get us some. The bottom two lines will he expected to add scoring too, Sutter Spalling and Downie will need to contribute fairlt regularly.

    Dupuis will likely come back and be his almost old or maybe the same super duper and help, Bennett is an X factor as his injuries always derail him so far, he’s due for a 60+ game season so will see how that goes.

  11. pleasefiredan - Aug 22, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    Neal was only a 20 goal scored when he came here. Not saying he isn’t good. But Malkin was a big factor in that. I highly doubt Hornqvist will go in front of the net. For some reason the penguins refuse to go in front of the net. On the power play we just pass and pass and pass looking for something pretty. I hope I’m wrong this season though!

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