Sometimes, you need to do the right thing, even if it doesn’t give your team the advantage. At least, that’s what James Neal believes.
During a game against the Buffalo Sabres — a contest the Oilers eventually lost in overtime — Neal advised the referees that a puck that went out of play, and was initially about to be ruled a delay of game penalty against the Sabres, was not, in fact an infraction because Neal tipped the puck.
TSN’s Martin Biron noted on Twitter that the refs in that game were going to call a delay of game penalty on Rasmus Ristolainen until Neal confessed he deflected the puck. The penalty was then never called and the Oilers didn’t get the power play.
Biron added that captain Connor McDavid was not pleased with his teammate.
If McDavid was unhappy we may never really know. That said, the idea of sharing this story here is not to judge McDavid. After all, every player is looking for that edge and who among us hasn’t let the truth slide here and then if there’s a clear benefit to not hurting someone. Many people would argue, ‘They didn’t ask, so it’s not a lie if I don’t say anything, right?’ The NHL is full of similar scenarios from embellishment to arguing against an offside to the constant shock and awe on the way to the box and while watching a replay that a referee might call a hooking or tripping penalty when a player knows good and well they actually broke the rules. Players convince themselves all the time that the referee is on something having the gall to make that call.
And, if we’re being honest, Neal has probably been guilty of a rule bend or two throughout his long and successful NHL career. In this case, he knew the right call was not to assess a penalty and he was honest about it. No, not everyone was going to love the integrity of telling the official but it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t the “right thing to do.”
And, for those who are saying it was unwise for Neal to have done what he did, there are three people who love the class he showed. Not enough athletes do it.
There’e No Right or Wrong Time to Be Honest
Perhaps best of all, it didn’t matter that the score wasn’t ideal for Edmonton either. After being up on the Sabres 2-0, Buffalo stormed back and had tied the game at the time the crucial call was made. Maybe the Oilers score on the power play and maybe they don’t, but it didn’t matter; Jack Eichel eventually won the contest on a penalty shot in overtime, taking an important point from the Oilers.
Maybe McDavid was upset. Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe fans are upset, maybe they aren’t. This author and Edmonton Oilers fan is proud to have a guy like James Neal on the team, overtime loss or not. In my opinion, it took a lot of guts to potentially upset his teammates and he’s earned that right, especially this season where he’s clearly pulled his weight.