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Will James Neal Comparables Shape Contract Negotiations?

Training camp starts in less than a month and the closer we get, the more Stars fans are asking about James Neals' contract negotiations, or rather lack thereof recently.

Today news has been rolling in on other RFA's around the league; Notably Patric Hornqvist of the Nashville Predators. The 23 year old scored 30 goals last season to lead the Predators and today signed a three year deal worth a total of $9.25 million. (3.08 mil per).

Mike Heika did another quality quesiton/answer post this morning and discussed this issue patiently as he's done a dozen times this off-season (yet people keep asking him). Check out his entire post at the DMN Stars blog here.

A small excerpt as it relates to this discussion:

I believe the Stars have offered a two year deal at $2 million for the 2010-11 season and $3 million for the 2011-12 season, and I don't think they will come off of that. I think Neal's people are waiting for Bobby Ryan to sign in Anaheim, and hope that a big contract for Ryan will help shape this negotiation, but I really feel the Stars may be willing to play hardball with Neal. [DMN]

We've been talking all summer about how much Neal is worth and which contracts to look at as comparables. Heika mentions in his entry today that the Bobby Ryan situation was one that Neal's people are waiting on as it could help shape negotiations with the Stars. Today we got the following cryptic entry in the Bobby Ryan saga from the OC Register...

"I don’t want a trade," Ryan told the Register on Monday following a workout. "I’m not asking for a trade. Iwant to be here in Anaheim. This is where I want to be.

"If it comes to a situation where there’s heads butting, then I guess it would be best. But I am not looking for a trade. I have no intentions of being traded. I love it here and want to remain a Duck."

He doesn't want a trade. Unless there's head butting. What have they been doing for months now? Anyway...

Then later today Bryan Little of the Thrashers signed a three year deal for $7.15 million [The Fourth Period]. Little's timing couldn't have been worse as his negotiations came a year too late. In 2008-2009 he tallied 31 goals but followed it up last season with only 13. This drop off is exactly the reason the Stars are being careful with Neal, and the reason why Predators fans might want to be careful with their evaluation of the Hornqvist deal. Unlike Hornqvist, who has only one good season under his belt, Neal at least has two very consistent goal scoring years. Speculation on Hornqvist goes both ways as fans wonder if he can score 50 some day, or if he'll drop off from 30.

The possibility of a drop off with Neal is lessened by the ...

forward group around him (especially Brad Richards for at least one more year). The difference between the Bobby Ryan and James Neal situations is that the Stars don't have the money and years to give right now, and the Ducks are trying to get Ryan to take more years than he actually wants. (5 years, $25 million they offered him at one point.) Ryan is reluctant to take the deal, presumably in thinking that in two more years he could actually get MORE. There is the expiring CBA to consider as well.

For now, for the reasons the DMN outlines, it seems as though James Neal's real worth is irrelevant, and that these comparables will have minimal effect on the proceedings.

In a perfect world I personally think he's worth between $2.5 million and $3 million for a couple of years as far as the league wide market goes, but that's too bad for him because he's an RFA and is largely at the mercy of the Stars, who Mike Heika says are willing to be patient.

Another possiblity is that he could ask for a 1 year deal like Setoguchi just signed, but the Stars would like to avoid arbitration with him next summer, for which he would then be eligible.

He's gone this far without an offer sheet and teams are cementing their rosters for the rapidly approaching start of camp. Will he break sooner or later? Will advances on the ownership front play a roll if this thing should push into the pre-season?

I talked about a ton of other comparables here earlier in the summer, if you'd like some additional reading.