When the Edmonton Oilers made a deal to send struggling and overpaid forward Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames, they received a veteran 20-goal guy in James Neal in return. What seemed like a winner for the Oilers was also viewed in Calgary like a breathe of fresh air because Neal was not at all meshing with the Flames.
Part of the trade condition was a 2020 third-round pick going back to Calgary if Neal scored 21 goals and Lucic finished with at least 10 fewer goals than Neal in the 2019-20 season. It didn’t happen — at least based on where each player’s respective production was when the current NHL season shut down.
As it stands today, Neal has 19 goals and Lucic has eight with the season paused.
Lucic Calls Condition Amusing
While talking to the cast of the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast on Thursday, Lucic says he finds it hilarious that these two teams are in the situation they’re in. Factoring in that the hosts of the show seemed to have the condition of the deal backward (contending it was the Flames that would be giving up the pick), with a trade condition that is so close to being met, Lucic seemed almost surprised there was a question about why the league wouldn’t rule in favor of the Flames.
Oilers GM Ken Holland has said he believes the NHL will allow the Oilers to keep the pick, all things considered, but the NHL hasn’t yet decided. Officially, no one knows what’s to happen with that third-round pick and Lucic finds that amusing.
“I think it’s hilarious that that’s what it’s come down to right now,” Lucic said. He added, “If you ask me, I think the condition should stand.”
Lucic assumes he’d have done his part to wedge the gap between himself and Neal. Noting that there were 12 games left and the two were 11 goals apart, Lucic believes he was getting hot at the right time and hinted he would have potentially gone on a run.
“The shi**ty thing is, too, I had one (goal) and one (assist) in my last game, and I was starting to feel it again, and (Neal) just came off a pretty big injury … I think I probably would have closed that gap from 11 goals. That’s why I think it’s funny that that’s where that’s sittin’ at right now.”
What Makes Lucic So Confident?
Perhaps Lucic is thinking that because Neal scored 19 of his tallies in his first 42 games and was coming off an injury, he was no longer contributing to the Oilers. Perhaps Lucic is also thinking that because he collected four goals and nine points over his last 15 games, he was now a scoring machine. Maybe he’s right. It’s more likely he’s being slightly overconfident.
Neal may not be with the Oilers this time next season. Making a hefty salary and playing lower down the depth chart for Edmonton means the Oilers might try to shed his salary amidst rumors of a dropping salary cap. At the same time, Lucic hasn’t exactly been an effective hockey player over the past two seasons. One would have to assume if the Flames could clear his salary off the books, and without the consequences of a buyout, they would.
Where his confidence comes from is a bit of a head-scratcher. This is a player who publicly stated on numerous occasions that his mind wasn’t quite right while playing for the Oilers and he was struggling to get his game back. This is also a $6 million player who still only has eight goals on the season. It’s hard to argue he’d gotten his game back and he’s certainly still overpaid.
The Stats Are On Neal’s Side Here
If the season were to resume, the numbers seem to favor Neal. A player with a proven track record of scoring 21 goals likely would have reached it, even if he played in limited minutes. The past few seasons also suggest Lucic had the potential to go cold as much as he was likely to get hot.
Neal was a power-play participant on the league’s best power play. He had Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and others to help him get what only needed to be two more goals. And, even if Lucic kept pace, arguing the NHL should force Calgary to give up the conditional pick (remember the show appeared to have it backward) without the condition actually having been met is odd, to say the least.
All-in-all, it’s great Lucic seems to feel good about his game. That said, it sounds like he’s getting a bit ahead of himself.
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Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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