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The Case For Canada: Will James Neal Be In Sochi?
*Some players are guaranteed a place on Team Canada. Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, and Duncan Keith will all be playing Olympic hockey in Sochi in February, 2014. But there is a whole league of very capable Canadians looking for a place on the country's next band of heroes...
Neal was arriving with the Dallas Stars, in the middle of a 55-point, 78-game season during which he also scored 27 goals... Neal was rumoured to be a potential candidate for the 2010 Olympic team, too, with goal totals of 24 in 2009 and 27 the next, although even those were far behind his 40-goal explosion in 2012.
Neal's offensive ability is unquestioned. His reach and speed are phenomenal and, if he wasn't Canadian, his plane ticket to Sochi would already be booked. It would have been booked the minute he made the show.
Unfortunately, Neal's reputation without the puck carries with it a sour taste. He's currently in the middle of a 5-game suspension for kneeing Brad Marchand in the head, and also caused the entire town of Philadelphia to hate him during the 2012 playoffs with a couple questionable hits against the Flyers.
It's not like Neal would have any time to be dirty on a six-game Olympic tournament, but – unfortunately – Canada's roster is so stacked that Yzermand and Co. will be looking for reasons not to take certain players, whereas Finland and the Czechs are looking to include.
Also, the emergence of Chris Kunitz as Pittsburgh's premier supporting player may hurt Neal's candidacy or even Kris Letang's.
There's only so much room on Team Canada. It's hard to imagine Pittsburgh sending four players to Sochi like San Jose did in 2010.
One Sentence For...
Neal has scored 20 goals in each of his last five seasons.
One Sentence Against...
Neal misses the show. Kunitz gets the nod as the guy that can pass the puck to Crosby, and pretty much everyone else. Neal falls behind similar players who can provide as much punch, like Corey Perry, Logan Couture, or Matt Duchene.
He'll be held around out of respect, but nobody respects respect.