It’s not surprising that James Neal and Milan Lucic have been accentuating the positive since being swapped for each other by the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames. Did anybody expect them not to stress the silver lining in finding a new place to play after Ken Holland and Brad Treliving swapped underachievers?
That said, what we’ve been hearing from Neal and Lucic, who waived his NMC to move three hours down the highway to the City of Cows, sounds like more than spin to me. Lucic leaves a situation where, aside from his first season in Edmonton, he’d failed miserably to live up to his annual $6 million ticket with absolutely no indication of a turnaround in sight. That will wear on a player – and a fan base.
Neal, 31, who’d put together 10 consecutive seasons with 20-or-more goals, never did find his stride with the Flames, scoring just seven goals in 63 games. With a chance to get out from under Lucic’s contract, Holland was willing to bet 2018-19 was an outlier rather than an indication Neal is on the decline. He’ll get a chance to prove that playing in Edmonton’s top-six. The Flames get bigger and tougher. The Oilers get more skilled. At least that’s the book on this deal. I think it’s a good bet this is a win-win.
Of course, we’ll have to wait to see how that plays out, but one thing that’s obvious with the ink on the deal still damp is this is yet another example of how relationships can impact players and how, in this case, it helped get a deal done when a lot of people around here thought that moving Lucic’s contract was going to be next to impossible. There isn’t a stat, advanced or otherwise, for that.
TALKING IT OUT
For Lucic, who struggled mightily here as the results didn’t come and his confidence waned, his ties to Boston turned the tide. Chats with Jarome Iginla, Geoff Ward, who was an assistant coach with the Bruins for seven of his seasons in Boston, as well as pals Mike Cammalleri, Kris Versteeg and Brian McGrattan convinced him to waive his NMC.
“Jarome and I got to know each other really well the year we played together in Boston,” Lucic said. “We were linemates, we shared a lot of stories, went out to dinner together a lot. I like to think he knows me pretty well and that’s why he took time out of his day to give me a call and help me with my decision. And he did help me make up my mind. I’m just grateful that I’m friends with one of the guys who I idolize most and that now I get to play for the team that he was most famous playing for.”
As for Neal, he works out in the off-season with Connor McDavid and he played for Dave Tippett in Dallas in 2008-09, scoring 24 goals. “I know Connor very well,” Neal told Mark Spector of Sportsnet. “I’ve seen him since he was a young kid. He’s just on another level from anyone else, a great, great hockey player and a great person too. I see the work he puts in, how much he wants to win, and when you have a guy like that leading you, the Oilers are heading in the right direction.”
And, of course, there is opportunity here, a chance to regain that 20-goal form. Neal will get every chance to play in a top-six mix that includes McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “The best part about it is you can fit in with any one of those guys. They all like to move the puck, and me being a shooter, you’ve just got to get open.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
After buckling under the pressure of trying to live up to the expectations of the contract he signed in Edmonton – he was expected to score 20 goals, get 50 points, be a physical force on the ice and a leader in the dressing room, all of which is reasonable for the big ticket he signed by the way — Lucic will get an opportunity to regroup in Calgary. Just go out and play, see what happens.
With Neal, I think getting a 10-time 20-goal scorer after one bad year is a terrific bet by Holland to help address what everybody knows is a desperate need for scoring on the wings. “Wherever I’m slotted, I’m going to do my best,” Neal said. “I think I play my best hockey around guys that can move the puck. For me, I’m a shooter and I do my best hockey when I’m getting open and finding fresh ice. So there’s lots of good things happening here.”
Are the Oilers better off with Neal than with Lucic? Absolutely, even if they had to throw in a conditional third-round draft pick in 2020 and retain 12.5 per cent of Lucic’s salary. Might the Flames be better with what Lucic can bring if his head is screwed on straight than they were during an off-year for Neal? Sure. Should both players find a fit, the Battle of Alberta might actually have some bite again. Win-win.
After having such a blast over the past two years, we absolutely knew that we were going to organize another golf tourney for the summer and, after a few months of planning, we’re psyched to finally be able to launch our third annual golf tournament.
- When – August 29th, 2019 (Thursday). Tee off at 2 p.m.
- Where – Cougar Creek Golf Resort
- How much – $1000/team
- Teams – Groups of Four (4)
- How – Book your team here
As always, a portion of all proceeds from your ticket purchase will be donated directly to a local charity. This time we’ve partnered up with the Gregor Foundation to make sure that our kids are at their most handsome.