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Neil turns down 4-year, $6.8M contract, likely to test market

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Bruce 'Malkin to the Kings' Garrioch cited sources in an article for the Ottawa Sun this morning that said Chris Neil, a pending unrestricted free agent, has turned down a four-year, $6.8M that would have a cap hit of $1.7M per season through 2012-2013.

As a player who's stated flat-out how anxious he is to get a deal done with the Ottawa Senators, he doesn't seem all that anxious to make his deal work. But it's hard for me to be disappointed with him, though, because I'll be honest: I think that offer us far to generous for a player as limited as Chris Neil. Despite his pugilistic presence and the fact that he's a good teammate and community member, Neil--in my opinion--is not a $1.7M player.

To give him credit, though, Neil has given a lot to the Senators franchise in his career here. He's the Senators' all-time penalty minutes leader, and has 118 career fighting majors to his name: 19 pre-season, 96 regular season, and 3 post-season. He has had his share of (relative) offensive success, highlighted by a 16-goal, 33-point 2005-06 campaign where he was even given some powerplay time.

But since that season, Neil's numbers have declined steadily in every offensive category, to a very unimpressive 3G and 7A in 60GP last season. This downward trend reflects that of most Senators players, granted, but can't be ignored when you're handing out contracts--especially to a player who's just turned 30 and plays a role that's not easy on the body.

Looking at 'comparables' in the league, even Neil's $1.1M is at the high end of the spectrum. The top penalty-minute players in the league largely had similar offensive outputs to Neil--in the range of 8-14 points, the difference between which is negligible on such a small scale--but had lower contracts. Look at Daniel Carcillo (3G, 11A) earning $894k, Shane O'Brien (10A) earning $894k, Zach Stortini (6G, 5A) earning $700k, Jared Boll (4G, 10A) earning $735k, Eric Boulton (3G, 10A) earning $600k, and Ben Eager (11G, 4A) earning $650k. In fact, looking at the league's penalty minute leaders, there is one player who makes $2.5M: David Backes, who was eighth in the league in penalty minutes, but also had 31G and 23A for 54P overall. A bit better than Neil's numbers, which is why he's making that money.

Personally, I think Neil's value has dropped significantly in the last two seasons. As much as I appreciate the loyalty Neil has demonstrated to the Senators, if I were GM (and you should probably be thankful I'm not), matching his last contract's $1.1M salary would be my highest offer--and even that would be overpaying for the physical forward.

Honestly, if Neil can get $2.5M--or more--on the open market, I think he'd better go for it. In the NHL, you've got to make your money before it's too late, and if the statistical trend indicated by Neil's recent history is any indication, his time might be running out. Although I won't appreciate it when he beats up on whatever cheaper enforcer the Senators can bring in, I will harbour no ill-will towards Neiler, and will cheer him on when he's back in Ottawa.