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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

James Neal: Year-By-Year

After weeks of speculation, Ken Holland finally convinced the Flames to take Milan Lucic off his hands. Lucic heads to Calgary in exchange for James Neal while the Oilers also give up a conditional 3rd round pick in 2020 and will be retaining 12.5% of Lucic’s contract.

By all accounts Neal has been training extremely hard this off-season and will be coming to camp with his eyes set on a top six spot, likely next to Nugent-Hopkins on the Oilers second line.

Prior to this past season, Neal had scored at least 21 goals in each of his 10 NHL seasons split between the Stars, Penguins, Predators and Golden Knights.

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I wanted to see what type of linemates he had during his career so I took a deep dive into the history of James Neal.

2008-09: Rookie season in Dallas

As a rookie, Neal played well over 400 minutes alongside Mike Modano and finished the season with 24 goals in 77 games. Mike Ribeiro and Fabian Brunnstrom were his next most common linemates. This was the only season that Dave Tippett coached Neal in Dallas and it’s nice to see that he was alongside a skilled centre the majority of the season.

2009-10: Second year in Dallas

In his sophomore campaign, Neal took a big step forward scoring 27 goals but also finishing with 55 points, an 18 point improvement over his rookie season. Under Marc Crawford Neal basically spent the entire season playing with Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson, playing over 700 minutes five on five with the pair.

2010-11: Traded midway through the season

Neal was once again locked in with Richards and Eriksson prior to his trade to Pittsburgh. Even though Neal was only in Dallas for 59 games he managed more than 700 minutes with Richards and Eriksson. Prior to the trade deadline, the Stars sent Neal and Matt Niskanen to the Penguins in exchange for Alex Goligoski. It looks like Neal played on a line with Mark Letestu and Alex Kovalev in Pittsburgh and managed to find the back of the net just once in the final 20 games of the season. He still finished with 22 goals on the year.

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2011-12: First full season in Pittsburgh

After scoring just once with the Penguins in the previous season Neal exploded in 2011 with 40 goals and 41 assists. So what was the recipe for success? How about 924 minutes alongside Evgeni Malkin. It looks like Chris Kunitz was on the left side for the majority of the season. Only Stamkos, Malkin and Gaborik scored more goals than Neal during the 2011-12 campaign.

2012-13: Lockout shortened season with Pittsburgh

Neal picked up right where he left off during the lockout-shortened season. He was once again riding shotgun with Malkin and scored 21 goals in 40 games played, second on the Penguins behind Kunitz. Neal spent over 300 minutes playing with Malkin that season and it looked like they had become a duo as his next most common linemate was Beau Bennett at just over 100 minutes.

2013-14: Final full season in Pittsburgh

Neal was limited to just 59 games in 2013 but still managed to light it up finding the back of the net 27 times. He actually finished with a career-best in points per game with 61 points in 59 contests. Once again Neal skated alongside Malkin but his most common linemate that season was Jussi Jokinen at just over 521 minutes.

2014-15:  First year in Nashville

In late June of 2014, Neal was sent to the Predators in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Neal would hit the 20-goal mark for an 8th consecutive season wrapping up the year with 23 goals in 67 games. He was reunited with Mike Ribeiro in Nashville and spent 625 minutes with him in his first season there. A young Filip Forsberg was his second most common linemate during his first year in Smashville.

2015-16: Second year in Nashville

Neal was moved away from Ribeiro during the 15-16 season spending the majority of his five-on-five time with Ryan Johansen and Calle Jarnkrok. He put together his most impressive season with the Preds finding the back of the net on 31 occasions.

2016-17: Final year in Nashville

Neal finished with 23 goals and 41 points during his third and final season with the Preds. His most common lines mates were once again Jarnkrok and Johansen but he didn’t even play 400 minutes with either of them. The Preds actually had 12 players finish with double digit goal totals in 2017, Neal finished third on the team in scoring behind Forsberg and Arvidsson.

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2017-18: Expansion run in Vegas

Neal was claimed in the expansion draft by the Golden Knights and found himself on a line with Erik Haula and David Perron. Neal played over 700 minutes with both Perron and Haula and finished fourth on the Knights in goals with 25. It was the first time he had played over 700 minutes with two teammates since the 2010-11 season in Dallas.

2018-19: One year in Calgary

Last season was an extremely frustrating one for Neal in Calgary. His shooting percentage plummeted and he had a difficult time getting any consistent minutes from Bill Peters. Neal was basically tossed around the line up playing 336 minutes with Mark Janikowski, 247 with Sam Bennett, 158 with Mikael Backlund and 146 with Derek Ryan. He played less than 100 minutes with Sean Monahan.

JAMES MEET RYAN, RYAN MEET JAMES

If Dave Tippett is smart he will put James Neal on Nugent-Hopkins wing for the opening game of the pre-season and leave him there for the majority of the year. I think a Nuge-Neal combo could be successful if they had some speed on the other wing and speed is one thing Holland has attempted to add in the off-season. My way to early prediction, 24 goals for Neal.

Previously by Dustin Nielson:


    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      Literally, some very odd site issue, log in then it would kick you out, post a comment then it would kick you out. Who knew Looch could lay the smack down on ON….LOL

    • Ken Holland

      We took our ugliest inherited contract and turned it into a top 6 winger with 20 goal potential. This was an absolute heist.

      Neal is working his tail off and will be coming into camp ready to make an impact. He joins former coach Tippett and best friend Smith.

      I woke up today thinking I was in a dream, but it’s real. Amazing.

  • Oil Vice

    Hopefully an illustration of how he plays well with good players. As long as he can play well enough to get most of his minutes with Connor, Leon or Nuge then he should be a 40pt player no problem.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Honestly the trade is kind of a was for both teams and both have to hope the player they got works out. 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.

    I hope Looch has things go better for him same with Neal, they are both proud guys and I am sure they dont want be seen as has beens already

    Neal has been working out with Connor and some other guys and I read somewhere the Looch was working with someone as well. I will say this I didnt think Looch would be going anywhere just because of how buyout proof his contract was, the fact that Holland managed to move it is impressive, but we have to hope Neal resurrects his career here

      • Ken Holland

        Just the fact both GMs put in this stipulation tells you what they think of the players.

        Treliving “If the guy I trade you scored more than 20 goals and the guy you trade me scores under 10, can you throw in a 3rd rounder?”

        Holland “Yes.”

      • The Iggy complex

        Neal was horrendous in every category. Plays went to Neal to die. Lucic was actually good at driving play and producing scoring chances. Lucic had a bit better chance at reviving his career. Especially now playing with NHL players

      • D

        Section 11.8 of the CBA states “If the Player is Traded or claimed on Waivers prior to the no-Trade or no-move clause taking effect, the clause does not bind the acquiring Club.” Since Lucic’s clause has already taken effect, the construction of the above Section 11.8 means that Calgary is bound by the NMC and cannot expose Lucic to Seattle without his consent.

        • OriginalPouzar

          I don’t have the CBA in front of me but I’ve researched this in the past.

          The above is correct with respect to trade protection clauses that have net yet taken effect. With respect to clauses that have taken effect and the player has waived for the transaction, the acquiring team has the option of signing an addendum that the clause continues or they can simply let it fall away.

          Its been officially reported that, in this case, the flames have signed the addendum to honor the clause – it remains in force.

          Presumably, as a condition of waiving, Lucic ensured the flames would sign the addendum to honor the clause – but that is just a presumption on my part.

  • Abagofpucks

    Well the boat anchor contract is is gone, now what will Holland do?
    I just can’t see this being it, i think there could be a multi player deal coming down during the next buyout window, I wouldn’t count it out.

    • Oil Vice

      I don’t think we can say the anchor is gone just yet. Most would expect Neal to outperform Lucic but we inherited $500k more cap hit with the trade. On one hand a 40pt season for Neal would be a huge improvement, however, +$6mil is still a big overpay for that kind of production. So even if Neal is bought out and costs $1.9mil for 6 years that’s still a significant impact. It would be a stretch to say that Neal can produce at the $6mil level for 4 years. So either way the anchor will still remain for at least 4-6 years. Don’t get me wrong, I love the trade, the anchor is definitely feeling lighter.

      • toprightcorner

        Holland paid $500k to likely add 10-15 goals, not have to protect him in expansion draft and can actually gain $3.8 mill if cap space in a buyout. You had none of those options with Lucic. Very small price to pay for a better player and much more flexibility.

        It is the difference between protecting Jones at the expansion draft or losing him for nothing.

        • CMG30

          Holland paid $500K to balance the roster. We move a contract that pays like it’s in the top 6 but sees the player stuck in the bottom 6 for a contract that’s similar in dollars but comes with a player that should see most of his time as a top 6 winger. This is huge. It’s very hard to find value contracts at the top end, much easier to find value contracts for players on the bottom end of the roster.

          The other benefit is that you no longer have a veteran hogging a spot which is better served for rookies getting a taste of the NHL.

      • The Swarm

        Eberle got $5.5 per for 5-yrs. He scored 19 goals and had 37 pts last year. Not saying that this is a good contract, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Neal exceeds these numbers. Look what Chiasson and Maroon did playing anywhere close to McDavid. This will go down as one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. I play beer league hockey and players can receives passes pretty than Lucic.

    • The Whispererer

      It’snot clear what you’re referring to. Since the Oilersdon’t have a player in arbitration they don’t get a 2nd buyout window. Also, the Oilers have $2.433million in cap room and Holland has stated his intentions to retain $1 million to cover Mike Smith’s potential bonuses and $1.5 million for in-season moves ( call-ups and trade deadline ), so it would appear he is finished acquiring players unless a $$ in for equal $$ out trade comes along..

      • If lucic is getting the kind of minutes that would require that, I’d be blown away. But then again I was also blown away he was traded for a roster player period; let alone a player with an actual history of potential.
        Also there is no way outta that contract when you realize he falls well short of your projected 70 at least Neal’s contract has a rip cord. None the less I’m sure Connor can bank 40 pucks off him where lucic would still be skating into the zone.
        … better cast? I’d argue lucic played more minutes with nicer players than Neal.
        This trade might be you losing a problem player, but this is the OILERS problem player on a much worse team on a much worse contract signed by probably one of the worse gms of all time, what you’ll soon be calling brado when you gotta protect lucic when a player you want to keep goes to Seattle and his magic 230lbs doesn’t get you outta the first round magically.
        Great comment though.

  • Towers-of-dub

    Hopefully when on of these ON reporters gets the chance to interview Neal they’ll ask the hard questions regarding the stories about him being a problem in the room.

    • Oil Vice

      Probably not. The NHL is very different from the NBA or NFL in that respect. While there’s bound to be players that don’t get along, the media doesn’t generally push those stories when it comes to hockey. It wouldn’t be good to grill a new player, who’s trying to start fresh, about him not fitting in with his old team. More likely they’ll ask him about his chemistry with Connor as they’ve trained together and how much he’s looking forward to a fresh start.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        I dont care whether you are in teh NHL or some guy on a job, when you work with other people, there are people you gel with, people you are okay with and others you see em at work but you wouldnt spend 5 minutes with them when work is done. The NHL is no different Look at hwne Kane was in Winnipeg and the stuff that went on there. Whne you have people that are expected to perform and they are being paid well for it, the pressure is going to be on and your definitely going to have some guys who think they are better than the next guy.

        Hopefully Neal will have taken the situation with the Value Villagers to heart and realizes that attitude could be a serious knock on his career and success can come and go he only has so many years left in the league and he doesnt want to be that guy getting kicked from place to place because his attitude sucks, that could end up spelling an ending to his career a lot sooner than he’d like.

        Hopefully both Looch and Neal make the most of their new teams and have some success, guess we will know when the season gets going

      • Leichs

        As Neal stated himself, going into two deep June playoff runs two years in a row hurt his summer training last year. He is with McD and Roberts right now. Im not even a little bit concerned with this.

  • Serious Gord

    A swapping of anchors. Or albatrosses. Or bad girlfriends. Etc.

    Both have potential to turn their games around. I think it more likely woth Neal. Watched him a few times last year and he seemed to have the skills and enough speed but he disappeared for some reason (when he was with Vegas he was one of the most identifiable players on the ice).

    Guess we will have to wait and see. At the very least if Neal remains a bust we will have someone new to hate. But because he comes with such low expectations (Dustin Nielsen and a few others who have lost their senses being notable exceptions) the sting of his awfulness will be less of a disappointment.

    • The Iggy complex

      Lol you actually come in here with common sense and a realistic view of the trade and get trashed. Well I guess let Oilers fans have a bit of excitement. Off season is only time they get any

      • Yeah that would be terrible if he didn’t pan out. Oh wait, you can actually get cap relief if you buy this contract out.
        The only way this is our loss is if lucic scores the Stanley cup winning goal. Might as well chalk this one up in the loss column where it belongs.

  • kormega

    I know trade looks papergood.

    But Looch in lames jersey after three years Oiler… bad dream, better off take picks from some desert teams. Lucic is a Flame now. Damn.

  • Bond 0097

    Ken Holland is waaayyyyy out front for GM of the year with this trade. This is a deal that will be remembered as the catalyst for the Oilers ascension up the standings. The stumbling blocks have been removed and we are now in business, now Jesse can come back and turn into the player he should be also.

  • Bond 0097

    Lucy dragged down everyones production around him, hell even McDavids numbers dropped with him, let alone poor Jesse. Lucy was a HUGE impediment to the development of our young guys forced to play with him, he will look great dragging Cowtown down, and they took our worst goalie too, what are they smoking down there? BAHAHAHA

  • HollandOurSaviour

    What happened to the site yesterday?As soon as I refresh OilersNation,it logs me out?And I tried to log back in and it didn’t let me in.Tried it multiple times and still the same thing.I don’t know what is going on yesterday, maybe the trade somehow managed OilersNation to stop working,I dunno.Welp,at least the site is working again I suppose.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    I’m in the minority but I am personally saddened to see Looch go. I felt he was a key catalyst in changing the culture on this team that nearly won the division in 2017 and almost ousted the Ducks later in the playoffs. Felt he was an excellent calming influence with this club and brought a lot of intangibles.

    I’m sorry his 2018 season went off the charts bad after Christmas because I think it weighed on him heavily.

    Always struck me as a good dude. Wish he went anywhere else because I wish nothing but the best for the guy.

    But this trade might help the Oilers.

    • Serious Gord

      Looking back At the 2017 season it is clear Lucic was already in steep decline. His in effectiveness 5v5 was nil. Only in the slower pace/less space pressure of the power play did he still contribute.

      And his truculence also was far weaker.

      This all culminated / hit bottom in game six versus Anaheim when he was the worst player on the ice – costing the team the game. The oil paid him big bucks and term to deliver above and beyond in just such a game and he completely crapped the bed.

      And far from being a calming influence his moroseness was a drag on the entire team.

      Glad to see the back of him. I hope he realizes how much of a screw-up he was in the last couple years (going back to his last season in Boston) and manages to resurrect the next couple seasons rather than continuing to be a stumbling circus bear on skates.

    • The future never comes

      You cannot lead in the room if you cannot lead with your play on the ice. How was he suppose to lead when he handled the puck like a grenade? If you’re at work and the person with the least amount of skill and talent is trying to lead and rara people, they would not be taken seriously.

    • CMG30

      The Oilers made the 2017 playoffs by riding on Talbot’s back after he posted an outstanding season. He was never able to regain that consistency and thus the Oilers have never been back to the playoffs. Looch had very little to do with it. In fact, if you look at the way he would ream out JP on the bench through the years, he was probably a bigger culture problem than a contributor…

  • Spydyr

    This deal is win, win,win. Neal should show up hungry with something to prove A la Chiasson last season.

    It has been a while since the Oilers have won a trade and this is very refreshing indeed.

  • billsbills

    Well the results from what I’ve seen is that Neal can score playing with pretty much anyone. When given some elite at center, he can be an elite scorer. I would slot him in with Nuge as well. But if chemistry can be found on a loaded top line with Neal and Draisaitl flanking McDavid and they can produce 110-120 goals, I would be liking a line like that very much.

  • Generic Oiler Fan

    now all we need is a 3C like Strome or Brassard.

    Draisaitl – McDavid – Kassian
    Neal – Nuge – Chiasson
    Khaira – Strome or Brassard – Puljujarvi
    Granlund – Gagner – Archibald

    Throw in Haas/Nygard/Brodziak as needed

    Nurse – Larsson
    Klefbom – Persson
    Russell – Benning

    Maybe throw in Jones somewhere. I’d like to see the Oilers sign a vet 7th D man like Engelland though.

  • #97TRAIN

    The biggest thing about this deal is the buyout. Calgary could have bought Neal out and would have been ok. This contract of Lucic’ is iron clad and good luck trying to buy him out. Unless Treleving gets as smart as Holland Calgary is stuck with him.
    Treleving just got schooled ,old school!

      • #97TRAIN

        Yes he did he could have got a guy to do the same thing Lucic will do in Calgary for under a million but instead he will have Milan do it for 6 ml a year!!😂hilarious

      • Lazarus

        As a long time Flames fan believe me when I tell you that a 2nd Line of Neal and Chiasson scares no one. Neither could play above the 3rd Line in Calgary. .

        • Beer_League_Ringer

          What does their imaginary slot in your lineup matter? This type of lineup comparison argument is beneath your hockey I.Q. Lazarus. You know that lines are about chemistry not just individual hockey ability. Chiasson got 20 last year. That is all we need from him. scoring in our top 6 wasn’t even the biggest issue last year. Surely you know that.

  • Ken McTippett

    James Neal is going to be motivated to prove his one bad year was an outlier. Lucic has had his chances to bounce back and failed. On paper, the Oilers win this trade.

  • blobbo

    Now that the site works again, random thoughts:

    There isn’t an Oilers fan alive who doesn’t support this deal (Flames fans posing as Oilers fans don’t count).

    Neal sounds like the kind of guy who needs consistent line mates to be productive.

    This deal makes Treliving look stupid but he does have an option. The Oilers have subsidized Lucic’s salary. The Flames can double down on that subsidy to make Lucic more traceable.

    I more or less said the Lucic/Neal trade talk was garbage. I’m happy to say I was wrong. Well done, Mr. Holland. I hope you’re taking the weekend off.

  • blobbo

    So Puljujarvi wants to go to a new team, does he? He can have new coaches, a new GM and a major roster shuffle right here without changing his address. I think it’s time for him to pack his lunch and go to work.

  • Hemmercules

    I love this move. Holland is a savvy gm to offload that contract and essentially give up only a third rounder. I realize Calgary needs some size but why not just buy out Neal and sign maroon to a 2 or 3 year deal at 3 mil per season? Looch can’t do anything for little Jonny playing in the third or fourth line. He’s not going to suddenly make money and Jonny invincible. I’m not sure what Trev was thinking making this trade. Maybe it works out for both teams. I didn’t watch a ton of Neal last year so maybe he’s called off a cliff as bad as looch has. Good gamble by holland as far as I’m concerned.

  • DraiCup

    Good read Dean! How can anyone not like this deal? Getting rid of Lucic’s contract is a major relieve going forward and that alone justifies the deal.
    I haven’t followed Neal’s career that much but after looking into his stats and highlights I’d say he’s had a real solid NHL career so far. As with many atheletes his best seasons came in contract years 2012-13 with Pittsburgh and 2017-18 with Vegas. He was traded twice having multiple seasons with each team he’s been on then got claimed by Vegas in the expanion draft. He had 11 points in 20 playoff games with Vegas. Last year he signed with Clagary as a UFA. Nothing points to him being a headcase or anything. You can guess him being 31 he took the best contract offer and therefore went to Calgary. Biggest questionsmarks are: how much fire has he still left in him to stay competitive now that he has cashed in? Can he stay healthy?
    There’s a chance that this turns out really well and Neal becomes a 40-50 point guy. In that case he isn’t even grossly overpaid. If his decline continues you can buy him out at some point without too much repercussions. No matter how you look at it the Oilers future looks much brighter after this deal! Well done Ken Holland!