Penguins Notebook: Neal comfortable with team, contract
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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- James Neal understood that waiting wouldn't give him much leverage.
After all, he was scheduled to become a restricted free agent -- not an unrestricted one -- July 1, and those guys rarely receive outrageous contract offers or switch teams.
Didn't seem to matter, though.
Neal sounds like a guy who likely would have accepted the six-year, $30 million contract he got from the Penguins Sunday, regardless of the circumstances.
That is why, he said, he didn't bother finding out what the market for him might have been this summer.
"I'm just so comfortable in Pittsburgh," he said. "With the commitment the organization is going to give me, it couldn't be a better feeling. I couldn't find a better spot. Pittsburgh is where I wanted to be."
And the Penguins clearly want to have him there, which is why general manager Ray Shero gave Neal a deal that will pay him $5 million in each season, and includes a modified no-trade clause that kicks in for the final three seasons.
"It's one less thing we need to look at in the summer," Shero said. "But even if it would have gone to the summer, we would have gotten it done."
He added that negotiations on the deal, which takes effect in the 2012-13 season, ran about four to six weeks.
Neal had one assist in the Penguins' 6-2 loss to Buffalo Sunday at the First Niagara Center, but has a career-high 30 goals, which just happens to be what coach Dan Bylsma was hoping to get from him coming into this season.
"Thirty was a kind of tentative number," Bylsma said. "The number he gave back to me was different from that number. He's not there yet."
Neal's target number still isn't known, but unless it's completely unrealistic, he probably has a good shot at reaching it. He has teamed with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz to form one of the most productive lines in the NHL.
"When you find chemistry with a guy [like Malkin], you want to play with him for a long time," Neal said. "We've [had] some good chemistry from the start of the season, and it's just gotten better.
"I'm excited to be able to play on a line with [Malkin] for a long time."
The synergy they have surely played a large part in Neal's decision to make a long-term commitment to the Penguins, but he insisted that there was more to it than just working well with his linemates.
"I love everything about what goes on here and how we play the game," he said. "I just couldn't see myself anywhere else."
Left winger Matt Cooke apparently was bruised, but not broken, by a Kunitz shot that appeared to slam off his left arm late in the first period.
Cooke immediately headed to the bench, then down the runway leading to the locker room. He returned for the start of the second period, however, and played the rest of the game.
Cooke, who had an ice bag on or near his left forearm after the game, declined to speak with reporters, but Bylsma, a former player, clearly could empathize with what happened to him.
"[The puck] is vulcanized rubber," Bylsma said. "It's pretty hard. And when they shoot it at 90 mph, it can put a sting into you.
"Even if it's just a bruise, you're going to feel it. It's going to be there for a little bit. Matt shook it off and played."
A light above the playing surface broke before the game, which caused skate problems throughout the game, even though there apparently was no safety issue.
"I was just concerned about safety because a great number of our players lost their edge skating over the [broken] glass," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
"There was chunks that were probably half the size of a penny. They wanted to start the game. We still had two players in the room getting skates sharpened. I said, 'We can't start the game.' "
Bylsma said, "I was aware [of the situation], and not concerned at all."
The Penguins are 12-14-2 when allowing the first goal of the game. ... Ben Lovejoy and Cal O'Reilly were the Penguins' healthy scratches against Buffalo.
First Published February 20, 2012 12:00 am