Photo Credit: @cooom

Milan Lucic for James Neal is a win for the Oilers

Ken Holland has been fairly quiet since becoming Oilers general manager, until now.

The Edmonton Oilers have traded Milan Lucic and a conditional third-round pick to Calgary for James Neal. The Oilers will retain 12.5 percent of Lucic’s contract ($750,000). The Flames receive a 2020 third-round pick if Neal scores at least 21 goals and outscores Lucic by 10 goals next season.

Holland’s biggest move before the Lucic-Neal trade was buying out Andrej Sekera, who only played 50 games combined the past two seasons. Getting out of the Lucic contract is a big win, even with salary retained and a draft pick going to Calgary.

Holland’s first trade as Oilers general manager is a big one. Resolving the Lucic situation is a solid start to his Oilers career.

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Milan Lucic James Neal
2016-17 1.21 1.98 17.1 1.47 1.01 17:42
2017-18 1.3 0.71 15.58 1.75 -0.51 17:11
2018-19 0.97 3.51 13:14 0.99 -3.2 14.57
PTS/60 and CF% Rel stats are five-on-five only.

Neal was just as poor in Calgary as Lucic was in Edmonton last season. He scored a career-worst 19 points in 63 games, ending his streak of 10 straight 20-goal seasons. Neal spent most of last season with Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett, but also had time with Mikael Backlund and Derek Ryan.

Neal isn’t going to score 30 goals and 50 points, but that’s okay. Even 15 goals and 30 points is more than what the Oilers were getting out of Lucic. Neal has a better chance to bounce back with only one poor season to Lucic’s two (arguably three).

Neal had a five-percent shooting percentage last season. If he shot his career average (11.6%) he would have scored 16 goals instead of 7, a 21-goal pace over 82 games.

Neal is already Edmonton’s best left winger, which reflects the state of the roster beyond Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. It’s easy to see Neal sliding in beside McDavid or Nugent-Hopkins. Neal still had 2.24 shots per game with Calgary last season, which would have been fourth for Edmonton forwards. Lucic was below one shot a game.

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Since arriving in Edmonton, Lucic has been done five-on-five. He hasn’t been the same player he was in Boston or Los Angeles. His days as a top-six, and maybe even top-nine, option in the NHL are likely over. Neal is a better bet to rebound, but the key to this trade is Neal’s buyout. Lucic’s contract is so poor with a bunch of money structured as signing bonuses. Signing bonuses are paid out in full, so buying out Lucic offers almost no cap relief. Neal’s contract doesn’t have any signing bonuses. His $5.75-million cap hit is the same salary he receives every year.

Season Neal Buyout Lucic Retention Total Savings
2020-21 $1,916,667 $750,000 $2,666,667 $3,333,333
2021-22 $1,916,667 $750,000 $2,666,667 $3,333,333
2023-24 $1,916,667 $600,000 $2,666,667 $3,333,333
2024-25 $1,916,667 $0 $1,916,667 -$1,916,667
2026-27 $1,916,667 $0 $1,916,667 -$1,916,667
2027-28 $1,916,667 $0 $1,916,667 -$1,916,667

The Oilers can buy Neal out next summer and have a $1.916-million cap penalty for six seasons. If Neal returns to form a buyout could be postponed until 2021, leaving a $1.916 million cap hit for only four seasons. With salary retained, that’s nearly $3.4 million in savings a season.

Lucic for Neal offers more flexibility. If the Oilers trade Neal at fifty-percent salary retention, that leaves a $2.875 cap hit for three seasons.

Trading Lucic at fifty-percent of his cap hit seemed unlikely. Adding more cap penalties past the four years Lucic and Neal have on their contracts isn’t ideal, but it puts the Oilers in a better position going forward. Neal doesn’t have any trade or movement protection.

Holland adds $500,000 to the cap this season, but potentially opens $3.3 million in 2020-21. Maybe Neal bounces back with McDavid or Nugent-Hopkins. Maybe not. Either way the Oilers are better positioned than they were with Lucic and his contract.

At best, the Oilers got a top-six winger for a $6.5-million cap hit for the next few seasons. At worst, the Oilers swapped a better buyout for the price of a third-round pick and $750,000. Are the Oilers a better team? That’s debatable, but they’ve created a path towards opening cap space and improving the team in the future.

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    • Ken Holland

      Anyone who complained about Hollands hiring needs to man up and apologize right now. This man is a living legend.

      Not only did we dump Lucic, we moved him to our biggest rival. Lol still can’t believe the lamers fell for it. Instant classic.

  • Oilerz4life

    I think Neal will find a place in the top 6 for the Oilers, also on the powerplay.

    Lucic will add some toughness for the Flames, but not much else, so hope it’s worth the price tag.

    If Neal doesn’t pan out he can be exposed in the expansion draft or bought out, so I would say big win for Holland and the Oilers in this trade, big time, major boat anchor cut loose.

  • Rama Lama

    Yes this may provide cap space……..but later when the players are on the ice, may provide a different perspective.

    I say we will see Lucic rebound in a big way in Calgary, and make this deal look a little less attractive. Lucic was over paid but was never the problem.

    I’m sad to see him go.

  • Spydyr

    Neal has less term,has more upside offensively and he does not have a NMC.

    IMO this is a big win for Holland. Neal may still be able to play in the top six. Lucic no longer can.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    I like Looch, for his mean streak which I think the Oilers are going to miss, so hope things work out for Looch. Now we have to hope like hell Neal can bounce back.
    The one positive to take from this that Neal will also not take up a protected spot for the Seattle expansion Draft, Lucic will though for the Value Villagers. The Oilers can protect one more player with Lucic gone, the Value Villagers cant. Also Two conditions have to be met for Oilers to send 3rd round pick to Calgary – James Neal has to record at least 21 goals and Lucic scores at least 10 fewer goals than Neal.

    Looks like Holland won this trade, something Chia wouldnt have done.

    • Spydyr

      I’m big on having someone able to step up for their teammates on the team but the Oilers still have Kassian, Khaira and Nurse on the team. The NHL has really moved away from the tough guy intimation factor that used to be in the game.

  • Holland for the win. This is honestly a miracle. Thanks for the effort looch, it wasn’t you’re fault you got Horcoffed by management. If you were 2.5 mil we’d have loved you forever! Good luck in Calgary, but of course any luck I’d wish the flames is limited.

  • CMG30

    Good work Holland! Neal may or may not return to form. If he does then the Oilers have found a top 6 winger. If he doesn’t then he’s a legit buyout candidate. Oilers have somehow found a way to slip the boat anchor contract of Lucic. Today is a good day!

  • JayNormous

    I can see it already.

    During one of the Edmonton vs Calgary games next year Bob Stauffer mouth breathes words over the radio that the Oilers better be ready to play a mean Lucic. ‘He’s got a chip on his shoulder and he’s ready to play’. Bob inserts sound clip of Lucic repeating one of his classic ‘i’m in the best shape of my life’ lines we’ve heard every year.

    Lucic plays an almost completely forgettable 7 minutes except for one moment when he gets caught out when the McDavid glides onto the ice. McDavid sees Lucic skating towards him. Stauffer drools what appears to be the turkey drippings you make christmas gravy out of. ‘McDavids got to keep his head up!’

    Camera angle changes from a half ice view of Lucic skating a plurality of km an hour towards McDavid. Camera 2 is locked on Connors face. Connor is laughs so hard he vomits. Lucic trips over a copy of 1983(see:Dustin Penner) and falls right into McDavids ambergris.

    Lucic uses his ‘best shape of his life’ arms to do an almost perfect form push up just in time to see the puck bounce off of the stick Neal had conveniently placed on the ice for Connor to bank it off of into the net.