The Edmonton Oilers have traded forward Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for forward James Neal. The Oilers will be retaining a reported 12.5 percent of Lucic’s salary, plus they’re kicking a conditional draft pick out to the Flames.
The two players are, by and large, comparable.
Lucic had 20 points in 79 games with Edmonton in 2018-2019, including six goals and 14 assists. He’s at about the halfway point of a seven-year deal he signed in July of 2016. That’s to the tune of $42 million and it’s essentially a fact that he hasn’t lived up to his billing with the Oilers.
Neal, meanwhile, had 19 points with Calgary in 2018-2019, including seven goals and a dozen assists. He’s in the first year of a five-year contract he signed in July of 2018. That contract is worth $28.75 million.
Neal is paid $5.75 million a year, while Lucic is paid a crisp $6 million. With the retaining the Oilers are doing on the deal, the numbers tilt a little in Calgary’s favour in terms of financial gain.
That conditional draft pick is a third-rounder for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Both Lucic and Neal are underachieving players coming off bad seasons, so this seems an even swap on paper.
But digging deeper, the Oilers could come out on top if Neal can regain his top form and generate some of his offensive prowess again. He simply didn’t fit Calgary’s plans, which are essentially to “win now” and ask questions later.
The real question now is how Lucic fits that plan. Neal may well have been the safer bet in terms of offensive upside, but perhaps there were other issues at play.
Lucic played his best hockey as a Bruin. He scored 30 goals and 62 points in 2010-2011 but never really regained that form. In his first season with Edmonton, he scored 23 goals. His production has dipped consistently ever since, though, and 2018-2019 marked a career low.
Neal scored 40 goals with Pittsburgh in 2011-2012, plus he reached 31 goals with Nashville in 2015-2016. But man, did things drop off a cliff with the Flames. After scoring 25 goals with Vegas in 2017-2018, Neal’s play quality plunged to the point he went pointless in five playoff games with Calgary and was a healthy scratch for the last game of the post-season run.
It seems likely the lack of production from these two guys finally sealed their respective fates and the swap between the Alberta clubs was made, with the Oilers tilting the scales slightly to make it happen.
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