James Neal will no longer be a Calgary Flame. Flames general manager Brad Treliving and his Oilers counterpart Ken Holland agreed to a rather confusing trade on Friday, swapping Neal for Milan Lucic and a third-round conditional pick.
More confusing to Flames fans is the fact that Edmonton is only retaining 12.5% of Lucic’s $6 million contract and early reports claim that his no-movement clause means the Flames need to protect him in the upcoming Seattle expansion draft. The trade defines bittersweet – getting rid of one low-value contract for another. The new roster structure picture for the Flames looks like this.
So why did the two Alberta GMs make the deal? The narratives surrounding the two are shockingly similar, making the case for a simple “change of scenery” motif.
Spot the Difference: By the Numbers
- GP: Neal – 63 / Lucic – 79
- Points: Neal – 19 / Lucic – 20
- Goals: Neal – 7 / Lucic – 6
- Plus/Minus: Neal – minus-5 / Lucic – minus-9
- PPP: Neal – 6 / Lucic – 4
- Average TOI: Neal – 14:57 / Lucic – 13:14
- Hits: Neal – 46 / Lucic – 259
- Giveaways: Neal – 35 / Lucic – 34
- Takeaways: Neal – 11 / Lucic – 27
- Cups: Neal – 0 / Lucic – 1
- GP: Neal – 766 / Lucic – 890
- Points: Neal – 514 / Lucic – 501
- Playoff Games: Neal – 104 / Lucic – 114
- Playoff points: Neal – 55 / Lucic – 70
- Plus/Minus: Neal – plus-30 / Lucic – plus-96
Beyond the Stats
Neal came to Calgary after going on back to back Cup runs, playing 42 playoff games in the two preceding seasons. The wear of two deep spring seasons on a 31-year-old Neal didn’t exactly help his foot speed playing alongside Johnny Gaudreau. But even after his demotion to the second and third lines, Neal had a hard time finding success with any Flames players. A rather one-dimensional game attributes to his slow season. Known primarily as a goal scorer, Neal had little to fall back on when the scoring touch dried up, leaving a disappointing void most nights in the Flames lineup.
Three hours north, the Lucic/McDavid experiment has fallen supremely short. To be sure, it’s a big ask for anyone to step in and play with the fastest player in the world, let alone a 30-year-old known best for providing a physical presence and a touch of scoring. Unlike Calgary, the Oilers had little in way of supporting cast and pressure on Lucic to perform was substantially higher than it was on Neal in Calgary.
Looking to Next Season
The Flames depth sets up a good situation for Lucic in Calgary. Low expectations for Lucic’s Calgary debut offers a good niche fit for the winger coming off disappointing seasons. As Eric Francis states, the ask of him is going to be significantly less than it was in Edmonton. Go out on a nightly basis and provide hard-working fourth-line minutes with skilled centres Derek Ryan or Mark Jankowski. A 30 to 40-point season would be a successful season and not entirely unattainable.
A few kind words from Mr. Calgary Flame Jarome Iginla never hurts either. Iginla was a player who managed to stay relevant late into his career by accepting new roles and working hard. If Lucic can adopt a simpler role in Calgary, things could certainly work out—at least for a few seasons.
“Then you add Looch? That’s a big man coming at you. It helps everybody, being able to play their game, to feel comfortable, and not have to worry about certain guys.”Former teammate Jarome Iginla on Lucic joining the Flames
Oilers fans claim trade victory because of unrealistic expectations. Lucic has the chance to come to Calgary and make a difference on a much deeper team in a role better suited to his game this late in his career. Good players adapt as the league changes around them. It was quite clear that James Neal had yet to figure that out in Calgary and Flames fans saw little to look forward to in the future.