James Neal can pinpoint the time his NHL career took a bit of a turn for the worse.
The former member of the Calgary Flames can certainly punch in the postal code of where things started to go south, too.
When asked about potential teammate Johnny Gaudreau, the now-Columbus Blue Jackets try-out invitee pivoted, slightly, to mention his time as teammates with the slick winger is when things started to unravel a little bit for the one-time perennial 20-goal getter.
“Johnny, I got to play with in Calgary,” Neal said on The Inside Edge, a radio show with Jody Shelley and Bob McElligott on The Fan 97.1 in Columbus.
“Calgary was kind of the death of me when I went there. I was on the fourth line just trucking away. It’s been a battle since then. I went there to play on his line, that’s why I was signing, that’s what I thought I was gonna do.
“He’s a special player, Johnny is. You know, he’s so deceptive, his IQ’s so high. He can see the ice all the time. If you watch him out there, he picks the puck up and his head is going everywhere. He knows exactly where everybody is.”
Nealer’s got some kind words for Patty & Johnny 🙌
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) September 28, 2022
Neal may have signed on to flank the right side with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan when he inked a five-year, $28.75 million to play for the Flames in the summer of 2018.
But Elias Lindholm found the fit, and Neal eventually found himself out of Calgary after one unproductive season in which he amassed just seven snipes over 63 games and sat as a healthy scratch in the playoffs.
He was moved to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Milan Lucic in the summer of 2019, and the balance of his contract was bought out by the club two years later.
Neal split time between the St. Louis Blues and Springfield Thunderbirds, the team’s minor-league affiliate, in 2021-22.
Now 35, he’s a free-agent invite of the Blue Jackets.
“I was down in Springfield at the end of the year last year, and I could see the young guys kind of leaning on me there,” said Neal, who has 559 points (296 goals, 263 assists) in 869 career games over 14 seasons with the Flames, Oilers, Blues, Vegas Golden Knights, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Dallas Stars.
“Just trying to help everybody out and give my experiences. Everything I’ve done in my career…win, lose, being traded, all those things…I’ve got a lot of experience with different things in the league. I was just trying to help them out.
“Felt like I could still play. Wanted to still play and I felt good, and Columbus was good enough to give me an opportunity here so I’m going to try to make the most of it.”