The Vegas Golden Knights's inaugural season did not have the ending the team was looking for, but it is now time to start all over and focus on the next campaign. Before the Golden Knights start looking at potential trade and free agent on the market to improve their roster and get as far as they did this spring next year, Vegas will have to make tough decisions on pending unrestricted free agents James Neal, David Perron and Ryan Reaves, whom has quickly become a fan favorite in Sin City.
Neal, who turns 31 in September, earned $5 million in the final year of his contract. He managed to record 25 goals and 19 assists in 71 regular-season games and tallied six goals and five assists in 20 playoff games. While the veteran forward wouldn’t address his future directly on Thursday, following the heartbreaking loss in the fifth game of the Stanley Cup final, he might have spilled the beans on his future, accidentally in an interview on Friday.
As the ream clean their dressing room on Friday, Neal was asked to talk about the Golden Knights' first season and what he can still be proud of, despite coming up short of the prestigious trophy in each of the last two years. When talking about the group of guys on the team, the fans and the city of Las Vegas, Neal said something about the future that sounded like the veteran forward already knows he will be back in Sin City next season.
"For us, we have a bright future and we can really stick with our group. So, we have a chance to do great things here and try to hold our heads high."
Us. We. Bright future. Yeah, we bet he is thinking of signing here.
Clearly, Neal seems set of coming back to Vegas. When Golden Knights insider David Schoen asked him more precisely on his desire to return, Neal went back to a more mysterious answer, while he did make sure to say he loved it in Vegas.
“I love it here. I thought we had a great thing going here. I want to win. So close. We have a great group of guys here, so I hope things can work out.”
A recent report from Greg Wyshynski of ESPN noted that the Golden Knights should use their $26 million in salary-cap space to pursue a highly coveted player via trade. Landing Ottawa Senators captain and star defenseman Erik Karlsson remains an option. Wyshynski also feels the Golden Knights could be tempted to pursue Washington’s John Carlson or the New York Islanders’ John Tavares via free agency.
However for these moves, you need money, and maybe a sacrifice amongst your free agents. For now, with Neal's answer, we aren't too worried about him.