Predators winger Neal caught 'blindsided' by trade from Penguins
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — James Neal seems happy in Nashville.
The final chapter of his career with the Penguins, however, remains a sore spot.
Neal told the Tribune-Review on Thursday that the Penguins' decision to trade the former 40-goal scorer in June was surprising and that no one from the new administration spoke with him or even introduced himself before the trade.
“I mean, it wasn't really in my hands,” Neal said. “I was a part of that team, and I never even got a call from the new coaches or the new general manager. The only time I got a call was when I had been traded.”
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin said earlier this month the Penguins never consulted him before Neal was traded.
Neal is close friends with Malkin and center Sidney Crosby and spoke with both Penguins stars during the summer.
Neal sensed something was amiss regarding his long-term status with the team.
“It did blindside me,” he said. “But I knew something was up after the year when they said that I asked for a trade. That never happened. I didn't ask for a trade. So at that point, I knew something was up. Still, at the same time, it's still a shock when you get that phone call.”
Neal said he knew changes were coming because of the Penguins' postseason troubles. They lost four of the seven series in which Neal participated over a four-year span despite being a regular-season juggernaut.
Although Neal doesn't have answers for the Penguins' playoff flameouts, he believes the team's course was altered permanently after falling to the Flyers in 2012.
“Why we struggled in the playoffs is still a tough question to answer,” Neal said. “I don't think anyone really can.”
Without prompting, the Flyers entered Neal's mind.
“I didn't watch the game (on Wednesday),” Neal said. “But I guess they lost again to the Flyers, eh? It's the same thing that went on when I was there. What the Flyers do to the Penguins ... I don't know why things didn't go the way they should have gone in the playoffs. I don't know why everyone got so rattled. But it's not my problem anymore.”
Neal said he is “grateful” for his time spent in Pittsburgh but made it clear that he has moved on.
“Do I miss Pittsburgh?” Neal asked. “I enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh. A lot of good friends there. I'm grateful for my time there. But I don't think I miss it. When you leave a place, you put that stuff behind you. I have a new home now. I'm enjoying playing here. We're off to a good start. I want to continue that.”
The Predators (4-0-2), long starved for offensive talent, have welcomed Neal with open arms. He has scored five goals in his first seven games after a hat trick in Nashville's win over Chicago on Thursday.
“Neal's been great,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “He's been great on and off the ice.”
“I've been so impressed,” left wing Viktor Stalberg said. “Great player. As far as I can tell, he's a great guy, too.”
Neal said he has “no hard feelings” toward the Penguins even if he didn't appreciate the lack of communication during the summer. He isn't looking back, though.
“I'm in a good spot now,” he said. “I can't look back and say I should have done this or I should have done that. You just move forward. This is a new challenge for me.”