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Friday afternoon the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers pulled off a trade that would have shocked the hockey world just a few seasons ago.
The Flames shipped James Neal, a 20+ goal scorer seven years running prior to last, in exchange for Milan Lucic, a high-end power forward for the majority of the 2000s.
There were also a couple sweeteners involved. The Oilers are eating 12.5% of Lucic's salary (he now costs $5.25 million per, as opposed to $6M) and sending a *very* conditional 3rd round pick.
Now that the details are out of the way, I can get to my thoughts. And I have many:
• The Flames gave away the player with more scoring upside. I think that's pretty clear. While both were putrid a season ago in terms of actually recording points (Neal averaged .97 per 60 at 5v5, Lucic averaged .93 per 60), Neal was much better at generating scoring chances and at least part of his struggles can be pinned on a lack of puck luck. He's also only one year removed from a quality offensive season while Lucic hasn't put one together since 2016-17. In terms of raw production, Neal is the better bet for a rebound.
• With that said, Neal's value only comes in the way of scoring. If he is as cooked as he looked last season – I opined he should have been healthy scratched long before he finally was – then the Oilers are spending $5.75 million annually on a borderline useless player. Lucic's offensive game may be toast but he still makes a positive impact defensively.
• Part of the selling point for GM Brad Treliving and his staff is undoubtedly the edge Lucic brings to the table. The Flames felt they were lacking it a year ago and that was before one of their more physical players, Garnet Hathaway, walked out the door in free agency. Lucic landed 252 hits at 5v5 last season, 7th most in the NHL. Neal recorded 45, good for 466th.
• We all know the Flames are in a tight situation financially. They need to save every dollar they can. This deal does free up an extra $500K in cap for each of the next four seasons, which is not nothing.
• The flip side to that point, of course, is Neal's contract is much more buyout friendly. That is big
. The Flames could have bought him out and saved $3.833M annually in each of the first four seasons before being hit for ~$1.9M in the four to follow. Buying out Lucic would save just $2.375M in Y1, $375K in Y2, $1.875M in Y3, and $375K in Y4. That's an average of $1.25M through four seasons, which is $2.583M less than buying out Neal would save. So while Lucic costs fewer dollars against the cap, holding onto Neal would have been much more preferable if the Flames ever felt inclined to dump a player entirely and shed meaningful dollars.
• One thing I'm interested to see: what, if anything, this trade means for Sam Bennett. The Flames now have Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, Lucic, and Bennett at left wing. Could Bennett shift to his off-side? Will he be traded? Lucic's physical impact more than replaces Bennett's, and the numbers suggest Mangiapane should be playing above both of them.
numbers via naturalstattrick.com and capfriendly.com
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