Pat Morris is a very good agent.
James Neal is a very good player.
Could the combination of the two lead to an offer sheet that could send Neal to another team? Probably not, but the Stars are going to find out in the next couple of weeks just what kind of interest Neal will get.
The negotiating period for restricted free agents opened on Monday. Morris would not give any details on whether or not he was negotiating with any other teams, but he said that the negotiations with the Stars were ``not really close.'' While neither side will discuss what offers are being made, it seems clear the Stars want Neal to sign a two-year ``bridge'' contract worth somewhere near $2 million to $2.5 million a year, while Morris and Neal would like a long-term contract worth significantly more.
The Stars have made their qualifying offer to Neal and maintain his rights as a free agent. Neal can accept the offer sheet (which is less than $800,000) by July 15, but he isn't going to do that. He can sign an offer sheet with another team starting July 1, but the Stars can match that offer sheet or they can let Neal go and accept draft pick compensation from that team.
The compensation list for this season is (compensation is on the average hit of a contract):
*$1,020,348 or below: No compensation.
*$1,020,348 to $1,545,981: A third-round draft choice.
*$1,545,981 to $3,091,963: A second round draft choice.
*$3,091,963 to $4,637,944: A first-round choice and a third-rounder.
*$4,637,944 to $6,183,925: A first- a second- and a third-rounder.
*$6,183,925 to $7,729,907: Two First-round choices, a second-rounder and a third-rounder.
*Over $7,729,907: Four first-rounders.
Would the Stars match any compensation up to $3 million? Would they match if it went to $4.6 million? Would a team structure a contract that has a big first-year salary to make it hard on the Stars?
All of these things are possible.
Morris said that Neal is excited playing for the Stars and is getting ready to play for the Stars next season. He said he likes the way his client is determined to make himself better. Neal is working out with Gary Roberts in the Toronto area, and is really pushing himself with a strong off-season program.
``James is a hard-working, determined player, and I fully expect him to be even better next season,'' Morris said.
Neal, who will turn 23 in September, is coming off a season in which he was second in goal-scoring on the Stars (27) and third in points (55). His numbers are significantly better than what Loui Eriksson had early in his career when he signed a two-year bridge contract for around $1.8 million a season, so Morris obviously believes that Neal is worth more than that.
Eriksson starts a six-year deal this year that pays him $4.26 million a year, and that's probably the range that Morris and Neal are looking. The Stars do not appear to have the money in the budget to afford that kind of deal (at least, not now).
By the looks of the budget, the Stars might have to simply wait and hope that Neal does not sign a restricted free agent offer sheet. Neal doesn't have arbitration rights, so this might just go all the way until training camp. If the Stars play hardball and Neal does not receive an offer from another team, his only other option is to hold out. If an RFA is not signed by Dec. 1, he is not eligible to play the season, so the Stars do have some leverage there. The NY Rangers last season played hardball with Brandon Dubinsky and he eventually signed a two-year bridge deal after missing some of training camp.
So how do you think this will play out?