The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers sent shockwaves across the hockey world and all of Alberta on Friday afternoon when the teams swapped Milan Lucic for James Neal. Edmonton retained $750,000 of money on Lucic, and included a conditional third round pick in the deal. Here are ten thoughts I had regarding the trade:
1. Calgary gets Tougher/Grittier
I’d like to note that I’ve never been someone who has wanted grit for the sake of grit. With that being said, the Flames have been a team that has been pretty easy to push around the last few years, despite their success. While I wouldn’t pin this past year’s elimination against Colorado solely on lack of toughness, Calgary still lacked a strong pushback and ability to make momentum shifting physical plays. Adding Lucic will give Calgary a ton of extra sandpaper in their bottom six.
2. James Neal will get his opportunity in Edmonton
For multiple different reasons, James Neal didn’t get/earn much of a shot at top six minutes with the Flames. The team had a very good first line that was clicking, and the 3M line was playing solid hockey. Neal found himself often in the bottom six, a role that was very foreign to him, but his play didn’t get the team any reason to move him up either. Given Edmonton’s lack of wing depth, he will definitely get a very good opportunity to bounce back next year, potentially on the wing of the league’s best player in Connor McDavid.
3. What will Calgary’s LW situation be?
As things currently stand, the Flames have four bonafide left wingers in Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, and Milan Lucic. They also have Sam Bennett who spent a lot of time on the left side last year, along with Dillon Dube who could find himself fitting there if he makes the NHL roster. Bennett and Tkachuk have played a little right wing, but there will some decisions to be made.
4. Will Milan Lucic waive his NMC for the Expansion Draft?
Lucic waived his NMC to come to Calgary after speaking to members of the organization and past players, however Calgary will still have to honor it moving forward. This begs the question as to if he’ll waive it for the expansion draft as well. I have a hard time believing that Brad Treliving and the Flames made this deal without some sort of agreement with Lucic that he’d waive it for the draft. Given the calibre of players that will probably be available on the Flames roster, it’s unlikely he’d be picked anyways.
5. Calgary didn’t trade the 20G James Neal
As I was browsing through the Twittersphere on the weekend, it seemed like a lot of people were treating this deal as if the Flames had just traded away a James Neal that had put up another impactful 20+ goal season. In reality, the Flames traded away their slowest player who looked fairly disinterested the entire season. At the very least Lucic seems like he wants to be here, and I’ll take that any day of the week.
6. Who will be the 2RW?
When the Flames brought Neal in, it seemed a natural fit that he would replace Michael Frolik as the full time 2nd line RW with Backlund and Tkachuk. That didn’t happen and Frolik saw a lot of time there along with guys like Sam Bennett. With a Frolik trade also seeming likely this summer, there is an open spot for next year. Could we see Tkachuk shift to right wing and someone like Bennett or even Andrew Mangiapane move up full time?
7. The 2019-20 Battle of Alberta will have great storylines
We thought the Cam Talbot for Mike Smith free agency swap would be interesting enough, but this trade further heightens the rivalry between the clubs. All four players will be looking to prove their former employers wrong, and that should add well to a Battle of Alberta that’s been heating up over the last few years.
8. Long-term ramifications of Lucic’s contract
If there was one thing to like more about Neal, it’s from a contract perspective. Neal was paid $5.75M per year, but his contract didn’t have any clauses and was fairly easy to buyout. While the Oilers retained $725,000 on Lucic, he still comes in at a $5.25M cap hit. His contract is also essentially buyout proof as the Flames won’t get a ton of savings if they want to move on from him. He also has the NMC as mentioned above.
9. Is Calgary better off after the trade?
The Flames have a lot of offensive firepower and scoring depth. That was a big reason behind Neal’s fall down the lineup. They lacked some grit and toughness. They traded from an area of surplus for an area of weakness. While Neal is the (slightly) better player, Lucic checks some boxes for the Flames.
10. Was this the best available James Neal trade?
I spent a lot of time thinking about this over the weekend, and it really seems like there weren’t many other more appealing options. Any deal where the Flames would’ve created more cap space probably would’ve included a significant sweetener (look at the Marleau trade). Any other deal would’ve involved similarly bad contracts coming back which is what happened. There also probably weren’t a lot of teams lining up to help Calgary, a team that looks to be fully opening their Stanley Cup window this upcoming season. The trade addressed an area of need for the team while moving out a player that had become an issue. It’s not always fun trading with your biggest rival, but I do have to believe that this was the best trade available.