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Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Fit

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.

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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

Apr 1, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic (27) celebrates his third period gaol against the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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.”

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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

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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.

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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.

THIRD ANNUAL OILERSNATION OPEN

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.

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Previously by Robin Brownlee


  • hagar

    One more thought since I am clearly not posting enough.

    It has been mentioned that Neil traines with McDavid during the offseason… I cant help but wonder how much that lent towards the deal?

    Maybe Mcdavid told Holland that he and Neil play awesome together? It’s not crazy to imagine that Holland and McDavid had discussions about the deal before it happened.

    Maybe McDavid saw him as a diamond in the rough, and he would love to play with since he has already practiced with him a ton, and knows they click?

  • DraiCup

    I was just looking at Neal’s highlights from his season with Vegas. The guy was an All Star that year. He doesn’t look slow there at all compared to Lucic. He can score in front of the net and has a decent outside shot with a quick release. In terms of scoring ability he reminds me a bit of Zack Kassian though he’s a less brusing type of player with a more calm demeanor. He might be a defensive liability but other than that he’s what the oilers need a potential 20-30 goal scorer. Not sure what his probem was with Calgary but from what’s out there nobody suggests he was injured it seems like he checked out at some point in the season cause with the emergence of Lindholm he couldn’t find the right spot in the lineup.
    Finding a spot won’t be a problem with the oilers. If he can somewhat return to form he’ll be a major upgrade to Lucic. Sorry Flames fans but wait till you see Looch play. He is the definition of slow and has lost all confidence with the puck. Except for his body he brought nothing to the table last year. Baffling move from a Flames perspective! All hail Ken Holland’s negotiation skills!

  • Harry2

    I get what you are trying to say RB but there is no way this deal isnt looked at but an unmitigated win for Edm. Lucic is an absolute plug at this point. Even if hell freezes over and Lucic and Neal have identical 20goal 30 assist seasons this will still be a win for Edm. And its about damn time

    • I think Neal will outperform Lucic by a fair margin, but I’m not comparing them straight up or even the contracts with the win-win suggestion. If Edmonton gets the scoring they need from Neal and the Flames get added toughness, which they want, from Lucic — even if it’s over-priced toughness, which it most certainly is at $6M — and a little bit of scoring, then both teams get components they want and need.

        • Señor Frijoles

          Just the fact that Neal does not have a NMC in his contract is reason enough to see this as a win for the Oilers. Even if Lucic and Neal contribute exactly the same amount of points – unlikely – but even if that’s the case, the Oilers do not have to protect Neal in the expansion draft, thus allowing them to protect an extra player – which they would not be able to do with Lucic. Its a win almost no matter what Neal does because they can buy him out whereas Lucic is almost impossible/pointless to buy out.

          • HOCKEY83

            The oil could have 4 players with NMC’s that they wish they didn’t have to protect and they still be able to protect everyone worth protecting. The flames on the other hand will lose a good player whether they have to protect one guy or not. Not a big deal…every team will probably all be happy to lose a decent contract cause they’ll all need cap space anyway…plus it’s still 2 seasons away…worry about it then.

  • I think this is a win-win but only because of expectations. Both of these players had high expectations of their respective teams and didn’t deliver. Now they both have pretty low expectations from new teams. Why it’s purely a win for the Oilers is for all the reasons already stated, eg buyout option, better chance of bounce back, expansion draft, etc. I do think Neal scores 20+ and the Oilers will end up sending that conditional pick..

    • hagar

      That’s my bet. Neil at 20 plus and all the way up to and past 30.

      Lucic with one or two in 30 games, then the flames realize their error.

      Lucic declined into his production like big athletes do quite often. It’s hard to keep a big physical body going after ten years of using it to sell your skills.

  • Arfguy

    Maybe I’m looking at it wrong, but is it possible that Neal and Draisaitl form a line? I’d rather not split up the McDavid+Draisaitl combo, but if I have seen anything, it’s that Leon is an amazing passer and could centre his own line if he had halfway decent wingers. Leon Draisaitl is a pure power forward and there aren’t too many of those in the NHL. Leon with a shooter like Neal and maybe Markus Granlund or Alex Chiasson could be a potential threat. Watching some of the highlights from last season shows Draisaitl+Rieder+Chiasson was a pretty good line until scoring goals became a problem. Then Hitchcock resorted to the McDavid+Draisaitl combo because those two are pure magic.

    Pretty interesting to see how the line-ups turn out this upcoming season.

      • Arfguy

        Personally, I don’t see the WOW factor of McDavid+RNH. While it may seem like they play well together, I do not see anywhere near the chemistry between those two that I see between McDavid and Draisaitl.

        I don’t like the untested nature of the first line if you don’t play McDavid and Draisaitl together, but I think I’d like to see:

        Nygard-McDavid-Kassian
        Neal-Draisaitl-Archibald
        Granlund-RNH-Chiasson
        Jurco-Khaira-Gagner

        Outside looking in:
        Brodziak
        Cave
        Puljujarvi

        While I saw a lot of potential between Draisaitl and Chiasson, I added replaced Chiasson with Archibald to add some much needed speed to the Neal+Draisaitl line.

        • hagar

          That’s a tough thing making lines with nuge third line.
          It’s not a perception thing, its dollars and cents. I am not saying your lines couldn’t work out, but I think once your at worst, second line center, gets onto the third, he needs to be traded for a solid second or first line winger.

          • Arfguy

            Yeah, I’m not too happy about putting RNH as the third line centre, making $6 million AAV. We have two seasons of RNH at $6 million. The safe bet would be to keep Draisaitl and McDavid together and hope that Neal+RNH works out on the second line. Neal is a shooter and RNH is a good second line centre. With Lucic gone and Neal in, I think this is the best time to see if we can potentially have a good 1-2 punch at centre by playing McDavid and Draisaitl on separate lines. I would not rather trade RNH, so if he can work on the wings with someone, I’m fine with that.

            I have seen RNH play a few seasons and I wish he were better at the face off dot. Maybe if Leon can play on the second line, RNH can be traded for a really good first or second line winger.

        • hockey1099

          This makes no sense. The oilers have 3 top six forwards and you want to spread them out over 3 lines? Bye bye offence. Draisaitl, McDavid are a pair leave them together. Rotate Kass and Neal through depending on who is playing better. That said nuge and Neal makes a lot of sense if Neal can return to being a top six forward. If he does we have 4 top six forwards spread out over 3 lines. We still lack a lot of depth. We may have got rid of a boat anchor but there is no guarantee Neal pans out and if he does we are realistically still short two top 6 forwards. Drai and McDavid can carry a kass but nuge and Neal will need a bit better of player to reach full potential.

    • DraiCup

      Tippett will probably aim for more stability in the lineup. Something also Connor was complaining about.
      Finding an effective second line is key. Connor can play with anybody.

      • Arfguy

        I don’t think McDavid can play with anybody. I think there are limits to McDavid’s game. He’s an amazing player and the Oilers are lucky to have him, but I do think he needs smart players around him. I really wish the Oilers had found more time to build up McDavid and Puljujarvi, but what the Oilers could do is find a smart player who craves scoring opportunity. Part of the reason McDavid and Draisaitl works so well is because Draisaitl is a shark. He’ll pounce on a scoring opportunity and he’s got a great shot. RNH has a great shot but lacks the killer instinct to become the sniper he can be. McDavid can draw a ton of attention, leaving a winger open. Heck, maybe Neal+McDavid becomes a thing and RNH+Draisaitl becomes a second line pair.

        It’s probably a fantasy, but the Oilers could use a player like Nikita Gusev.

        • DraiCup

          almost anybody then 🙂 I really liked the combo Connor and Rattie when Rattie was on his hot streak. I’d like to see a similar type of player on Connors wing but as of now he’s not on the roster.
          maybe even Neal+Connor+Chiasson/Kassian might be a very good line.

          • Arfguy

            I liked that combo, too. I feel bad for Rattie, as I saw flashes of a good player who had some really tough luck. I hate Hitchcock even more for never going back to McDavid and Rattie when Ty was healthy. Can’t believe Hitchcock went with Lucic on McDavid’s right wing before trying Rattie again.

            Thank goodness Kassian stepped up when he got the chance. He really gelled on that McDavid+Draisaitl line and he has some good speed. Last year is the only reason I’d be loathe to take Kassian off the top line.

          • Arfguy

            That is probably what will happen in the end, if I’m being realistic. When two players combine for 200+ points, it almost seems stupid to dismantle it for some unicorn idea of 1-2 punch at centre, right?

          • Can anyone remind me how often RNH was with Draisaitl 5 on 5 without McDavid? Was this tried much? I don’t remember seeing that very often without McDavid or on the PP. If Neal ends up as a good fit with McDavid as a sniper, a second line including Draisaitl and RNH would give the Oilers two great scoring lines.

  • Arfguy

    @DraiCup “I believe Benson would be a good fit with Neal and Nuge. Maybe not this season but who knows…”

    You might be onto something. Benson got a lot of assists last season in the AHL. Maybe if he makes the roster this season, they could see about pairing him with Draisaitl, who has a great shot and likes to score those one timers.

    • DraiCup

      I think Benson will make his NHL debut this season and develop into a player sooner or later. He has a lot of tools that are needed. Time will tell how fast he develops.

  • DaRel Farth Ead

    Could expect 20 goals from Neal. Possible total points between him and looch will be similar (Going off their last 3 seasons- 35ish). Is the loss of Lucic’s intangibles worth the upgrade in goals? Then there is the loss of the unmovable contract. Thats what I like!