To suggest Peter Chiarelli left the Edmonton Oilers in cap purgatory and with a badly flawed roster would be kind. Ken Holland knew cleaning up said mess was part of the deal when he took the gig as the club’s general manager and that it wasn’t going to be easy. Though he still has plenty of work to do, trading Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal was certainly a step in the right direction.
After watching Kyle Dubas cough up a first-round pick in order to get rid of the final year on Patrick Marleau’s deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, there was never going to be an easy out for the Oilers. Giving up a ton of futures to move Lucic wasn’t an option. So it came down to one thing, how big of a “poison pill” was the organization willing to swallow to make it happen.
Oilers Had Few Options
When it comes to a potential “poison pill” the Neal scenario is as good as anyone could have realistically hoped for. Edmonton did take on an additional $750k on the cap and had to add a conditional pick into the mix to make it happen but in the grand scheme of things, it was a mere pittance. Especially when one considers keeping or buying out the Lucic deal had cap disaster written all over it.
Holland has now removed said storyline from being a talking point and kudos to him for making it happen. Now, is the 2005 second-round pick of the Dallas Stars without his flaws? Clearly not but Neal’s resume suggests he scores goals when playing with top-end talent and seeing regular power-play duty. Neither of those things happened in Calgary and Edmonton is hoping opportunity sees him return to form.
Shortcomings and all, the ten-time 20-goal scorer instantly becomes the Oilers fourth-best forward currently on the team and the roster’s top natural winger. No question his 2018-19 campaign was disastrous but expecting Neal to bounce back to his usual production level, when playing with likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, doesn’t seem that farfetched.
Neal Will Get Opportunity with Oilers
With an annual cap hit of $5.75 million and four years still remaining on his deal, the 31-year old is far from an ideal fit for the Oilers cap. However, unlike the player he was traded for, at least the potential for a rebound is there. And if it doesn’t end up working out in Edmonton either, the organization now has an out that did not exist prior to yesterday afternoon.
While the Lucic deal was essentially buyout proof, that is not the case with the guy who was brought in to replace him. Though there really is no such thing as a “good” buyout, the ramifications of a Neal buyout is far less damaging in both the short and long term. Not to mention, it frees up a spot for the Oilers to protect a player at the Seattle Expansion Draft, something which cannot be overlooked.
An added benefit to be sure but make no mistake, Ken Holland made this deal with the intent of improving the team today and allowing for more flexibility in the future. And while neither Milan Lucic nor James Neal are still viewed as the primary pieces they once were, it appears as though the Edmonton Oilers have actually won a “hockey trade”. This in itself is a massive step forward from the previous regime.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.