In one swift trade Friday, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames both checked off boxes on their offseason to-do list, swapping left wingers Milan Lucic and James Neal .
The deal is 1-for-1, however, the Oilers will retain some of Lucic's salary and send the Flames a conditional draft pick (Neal must score at least 21 goals and Lucic must score at least 10 fewer goals than Neal, as per Mark Spector).
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) July 19, 2019
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This deal adds even more intensity to the long-standing Battle of Alberta, as each club again swaps players; to kick off free agency, each team flipped goaltenders when Mike Smith signed with the Oilers and Cam Talbot signed with the Flames .
While both 31-year-old forwards had down years, each failing to exceed 20 points with their respective clubs, they are both much-needed assets and should be able to benefit both teams; however, every gift comes with a price (quite literally in regards to each team's salary cap situation).
Here's how each team fared in this trade.
Edmonton received from Calgary
LW James Neal
Calgary received from Edmonton
LW Milan Lucic
This deal can actually be considered a big win for the Oilers.
Edmonton needed one thing this offseason: goal-scoring. They get that with Neal (sans 2018-19, but we'll get to that in a second).
Yes, he wasn't performing up to standards with the Flames last season, having only registered just seven goals and 19 points in 63 games. But ultimately, he's a proven goal-scorer who should be able to fit in perfectly in Edmonton's lineup while also providing much-needed offense.
Last season was the only "off" year of Neal's career, and a lot of outside factors also play into this; not only did he average little ice time (a career-low of 14:57) and play mainly on the bottom-6 — and sometimes solely on special teams — but he also battled an injury over the course of the 2018-19 campaign. Prior to this past year, he'd never scored less than 20 goals over the course of his 10 seasons in the NHL. One poor season is not at all a reflection of his play, and additionally, he'll likely receive more opportunity in Edmonton than he did back in Calgary.
Still, there lies the concern in this obvious question: is there enough confidence to say that Neal can find his game with the Oilers?
Let's put it this way: Neal has proven that he still has the speed and ability to play on the top-6, and working with new head coach Dave Tippett, who he developed and rounded out his game with back when both were in Dallas, he'll likely find his touch again. Not to mention, there's a vacancy for a top-line winger, and he can play on either wing despite being a left-hand shot. If he plays with Connor McDavid (who he's trained with in the offseason before), they'll be able to find chemistry.
And that's the end goal for Edmonton: a top-6 offense. They averaged just 2.79 goals per game last year, and Alex Chiasson was one of just three 20-goal scorers, which also included McDavid (41) and Leon Draisaitl (50). Neal will be able to come in and add at least some kind of momentum, especially thanks to his strong shot and quickness.
Although losing Lucic means losing a physical presence, Neal fills that void with his 6-3, 212-pound frame, which also has allowed him to adopt a physical style of play and also work well in front of the net and in the corners.
The only downside to this deal is the salary; the Oilers were able to unload Lucic's deal that carries a $6 million AAV, but in return, they take on Neal's $5.75 million annual salary and also retain salary on their end (undisclosed). Still, they didn't have a lot of money to work with before the trade, and given Lucic's play, Neal is perhaps the strongest return they could have gotten.
In the end, though, the Oilers are getting a player who has shown that he can still score and has had just one poor performance over his 11-year tenure in the league, where he's accumulated 514 points over 766 games. He's physical and a pure scorer, knows Tippett and his systems and will easily fill the void left by Lucic, who hasn't been able to find his game with Edmonton and could not provide the offense they needed.
Ken Holland hit the jackpot with this trade.
The trade from the Flames side isn't the worst; Neal didn't fit in their systems or necessarily fulfill their needs in the lineup. However, Lucic hasn't been great over the last few seasons, and his play has seen a significant decline over the last two years.
In his first year with the Oilers, he was able to help establish a positive culture and produce offensively, racking up 23 goals and 50 points. However, the next two seasons, he'd combine for just 54 points; he fell to just 10 goals in 2017-18, and this past year, he had just six goals and 20 points.
Overall though, this doesn't mean much for the Flames; they didn't lose a key offensive piece in Neal, and they won't be getting one in Lucic — not only that, they don't really need it with their current depth.
So what does Calgary get with this deal?
Mainly a strong off-ice presence, something that the Flames need more than anything given their youth; their average age is 26.7, which puts them among some of the youngest clubs in the league. Some could also argue that a lack of veteran presence (despite having Mike Smith) was one of the big reasons that they couldn't make a deep playoff run despite clinching the Western Conference in 2018-19.
With Lucic, the Flames get another older guy in the locker room, one that has won a Stanley Cup before, has playoff experience and can help continue to build a positive culture. He also fills Neal's void as a physical presence and is an aggressive, big guy who can bring size and grit to the lineup.
Still, Calgary does lose the opportunity to see Neal potentially bounce back and also gets an expensive player on the decline.
It's hard to say if Brad Treliving won this deal, but if the goal was to bring in someone who could mentor the Flames' youth and bring more off the ice than on, it can be considered a victory.