It was confirmed today that Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews will miss the 2016 NHL-All Star game due to illness. In his place, the Nashville Predators announced James Neal would take his place.
That's four Preds players representing the city at the game. Preferential treatment? Absolutely. But in an exhibition game that's more about the festivities around the event, rather than the event itself, it's not like guys are missing out on major hardware. (Unless Mikko Koivu really waned that personalized Gisbon guitar.) Neal was already in town, and didn't have to scramble to get a flight, or have a family to blow off/get ready for a trip. Plus, if you're Blake Wheeler and have to spend majority of your year in Winnipeg, getting to a warm, sandy beach probably appeals more than parading around an NHL event.
On the Jame Neal Hateful Goal Scale, we rate this about a 6. Congrats, sir.
The 28-year-old forward, who recorded his 200th career goal earlier this month, will be making his third appearance at an All-Star Weekend and his first as a Preds player. Neal's 18 goals on the season pace the Preds, with his 18th tally serving as the game winner on Tuesday versus the Vancouver Canucks.
"History has shown there are certain guys who are able to rise to the occasion when the game is on the line. When you have parity, you have to find some guys that can make a difference and James Neal seems to have that quality," Predators General Manager David Poile said. "That’s kind of his moniker if you will, ‘big deal Neal.’ He gets that because of coming through in big-time situations and scoring these big goals. The game [Tuesday] night, less than five minutes to go, the stage is set for somebody to be a hero, and I think he likes that stage and he found it. That’s why he’s ‘big deal Neal.’"
The Whitby, Ontario, native joins Preds teammates Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Pekka Rinne at the All-Star Weekend in Music City, a franchise-record total for Nashville. Festivities for the event begin today with NHL Fan Fair presented by Bridgestone at Music City Center opening to the public at 4 p.m. (CT).
"It is always a great honor to be selected to play in the All-Star Game, but to be able to do so in front of the hometown fans and in the city of Nashville makes it even more special," Neal said. "I want to thank the Predators organization, my teammates and coaches for helping me reach this accomplishment."
Only the fourth member of the 2005 NHL Draft class to register 200 career goals, Neal has scored at least 21 goals in each of his seven seasons in the League. Neal replaces Chicago Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews at the All-Star Weekend.
"It’s another great addition for the All-Star Game, both for the fans and especially for our home team in Nashville," Poile said. "James is having a great year. He’s very deserving, and it feels like the right thing that the Predators would have four players in their All-Star Game, so it’s good for James, and good for us."