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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

What to Expect From James Neal

James Neal’s best asset is goal scoring. He and Bobby Orr are currently tied at 250th for the most goals in NHL history at 270. If he scores 20 goals this season he will move up to 215th all-time.

Scoring goals has been his calling card for the vast majority of his career.

James Neal was drafted in the second round, 33rd overall, in 2005 by the Dallas Stars. He played two more years in junior after being drafted, and then began his pro career in the American Hockey League with the Iowa Stars in 2007/2008. In his two years in junior after being drafted he scored 21-37-58 in 66 games and then 27-38-65 in 45 games. He wasn’t a point-a-game player until he was 19 years old.

In Iowa he produced 18-19-37 in 62 games. He started the 2008/2009 season with the Dallas Stars. He scored a goal in his first NHL game playing on a line with Mike Modano and Sean Avery. He scored 2-2-4 in his first six NHL games. But then he went pointless in his next six games, was -5 and the Stars sent him down to the AHL. What a concept: sending young players to the minors when they are struggling. But I digress.

Neal went down the Manitoba Moose, as the Stars didn’t have their own AHL team that season and had players on different AHL teams. Neal was on the Moose for only a short time. He produced 4-1-5 in five games and was back up with the Stars.

He scored in his first game back on November 20th against Chicago and he produced 22 goals in over the final 65 games. He hasn’t played another game in the AHL.

Neal was a consistent 20-goal scorer right away in the NHL. His first ten NHL seasons he produced 24, 27, 22, 40, 21, 27, 23, 31, 23 and 25 goals. His lowest total of 21 came in the lockout shortened 2013 season. He was without a doubt a consistent 23+ goal scorer.

Then he signed in Calgary, his third team in three years, and he had his worst NHL season, producing only 7-12-19 in 63 games. Between November 3rd and March 27th he played 44 games and scored twice. He had 93 shots in that time and only lit the lamp twice. It was easily the worst stretch of his career, and his worst season.

What happened?

It would seem many things. Supposedly he wasn’t in the best shape at the start of the season, and then numerous people in Calgary and some national reporters mentioned he and head coach Bill Peters weren’t on the same page. But he did score 2-2-4 in the first ten games and was on the top PP. He had opportunity, but he never found his way and then he lost his confidence. Even a perennial 20-goal scorer can lose his confidence. There is a fine line in the NHL between being productive and destructive sometimes.

Was last year simply a major outlier, or a sign Neal is starting to regress?

Former NHL consultant and stats guru Michael Parkatti outlined an interesting stat about Neal’s potential production.

You can hit his tweet to see the entire link, but here are some more who are on the list.

Sykora – 247 – 323
Elias – 244 – 408
Jokinen – 237 – 321
O’Neill – 237 – 237
LeClair – 235 – 406
Hartnell – 230 – 327

His thread continued with,”Three players basically wheezed out, seven scored between 68-103 additional goals,  and the other seven produced more than 103 goals.

The mean expectation would be somewhere around 91 additional goals after age 30,” wrote Parkatti.

Neal scored seven goals last year so the expectation, based on Parkatti’s numbers, is he should score 84 more NHL goals. If he does, he’d have 354 career NHL goals and be tied with Danny Gare at 154th most in NHL history.

There is no doubt Neal is a very good goal scorer, which is exactly what the Oilers need. Of course there are some concerns about his game. The Flames wouldn’t have traded him for Milan Lucic if there wasn’t something they didn’t like. Of course, that doesn’t make it the proper decision. Just ask Oilers fans about trades gone wrong.

The official trade was Neal for Milan Lucic and a conditional third round pick. Plus the Oilers retain 12.5% of Lucic’s cap hit. So Lucic will be a $5.25 cap hit for four years in Calgary, meanwhile Edmonton will have a cap hit of $6.5 million between Neal’s annual cap hit of $5.75 million and Lucic’s retention of $750,000.

The condition on the third round pick suggests the Flames know they gave up the more productive player. There are two conditions for the Oilers to give up the third round pick. Neal has to score at least 21 goals and Lucic must score at least 10 fewer goals than Neal. I’m trying to recall last time there was a condition in a trade similar to this, but I can’t recall one. Can you?

The mistake I made in thinking Lucic would get traded was I thought too rationally. I will learn from it, but I should have been smarter. Why would a team give up a better player to acquire Lucic, I thought? But considering the Hall/Larsson, Stome/Spooner and Caggiula/Manning deals I should have realized teams do it, but it often was the Oilers taking the gamble. Teams convince themselves the new player coming in will help their team more. Maybe Lucic will, but I think the odds of Neal helping Edmonton more over the next four seasons are much higher than what Lucic will do in Calgary.

DIFFERENT PLAYERS…

Neal doesn’t bring the physicality of Lucic, and definitely not the pugilistic abilities.

Neal plays greasy, but don’t expect him to drop the mitts very often. His last fight was October 14th, 2016 against Jonathon Toews.

The Oilers don’t need him to fight, and no one should expect him to. He has nine career NHL fights and one in the AHL.

He isn’t physical like Lucic. The past three seasons Lucic had 715 hits, while Neal had 174. Again, I’d rather have goals than hits, and while some might discount hitting in today’s game, there is a reason why it increases significantly in the playoffs. Teams try to wear players down. It doesn’t show up on the scoresheet right away, but Calgary felt their inability to disrupt Colorado’s defencemen hurt them. Lucic won’t solve that issue himself, but the Flames feel it will help.

The only area where I see a clear advantage for Lucic is health. Lucic rarely misses games. He played the most games among Oilers over his three years in Edmonton. He has only missed 13 games in the past nine NHL seasons. Neal has missed 92, and 41 have come in the past three seasons. Lucic didn’t perform as well as he, the organization or fans expected, but staying healthy gives a player the opportunity to contribute more.

What Neal does best, and he does much better than Lucic, is score goals. He has 270 in 766 games, while Lucic has 198 in 890 games. Neal also has 13 more career points (514-501) in 124 fewer games. He is a better offensive player, and for a team lacking in scoring depth this trade fills a big void for the Oilers.

Edmonton desperately needed more scoring depth, and Flames GM, Brad Treliving, felt they needed a change with Neal.

“Whether it’s that James has played a lot of hockey, or we didn’t put him in the right spots, or we didn’t put him with the right people, it just didn’t fit. You can debate all that, and we have, and we’ve gone through that, and you go back through it. Then you say, ‘OK, what’s going to be different?’ I felt there was a better chance of him having success elsewhere than here, so now you’re looking and say ‘OK, how do you help your team,” said Treliving to Darren Hayes of the Athletic.

The Flames felt they needed a more consistent forecheck in their series loss to Colorado so they moved Lucic for Neal.

Both players struggled last year, no question, but if they both bounce back, I believe Neal’s goal scoring ability will help the Oilers more. We’ll see how it plays out.

LUCIC STRUGGLED…

Lucic admitted things didn’t go as well as he’d have hoped in Edmonton. In an interview, after the trade, with George Johnson Lucic said the following:

“When I arrived in Edmonton three years ago I was really excited, believe me. I wanted it to work, so badly, but – in retrospect – maybe I put too much on my plate.
“Looking back now, I think I put too much pressure on myself, trying to be this … guy.
“This leader. This player. This power forward. This big presence off the ice. All this type of stuff.
“I didn’t feel like myself at all.
“I’m not blaming anyone there for that. Whatsoever. I just bit off more than I could chew.
“And I think in this situation I can just be myself. Just go about my business; play my game. Play hard. Be physical. Be a good teammate.
“That was definitely one of the things really appealing for me.”

He admitted his approach wasn’t the best. The mental aspect of the game is huge, and it can impact a player’s ability to succeed on the ice, but that doesn’t change that he didn’t come close to being the player Edmonton hoped he’d be. He was never going to live up to the contract, which is fine, since I never expect a player to do so if a team overpays him, but he could have played better. It is great he is working with a skills coach this summer, but he should have had one last year. I asked him about after the 2018 season and he said jokingly, “I don’t need to work on toe drags.” If the most skilled players in the world like McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and others are working with a skills coach, any forward who isn’t is simply falling behind.

Maybe he bit off more than he could chew, but after year two he should have tried a different approach mentally, and physically (skills coach).

It is fair to question some of the hires Daryl Katz has made as Oilers owner, but you can’t question is willingness to try to fix the team. In acquiring Neal, Katz is paying him around $9 million more in actual cash than what they’d he paid Lucic.

Katz, Holland the entire organization are betting Neal is worth the extra money.

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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  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    In all the games played against EDM last year, Neal failed to record a single point. That, considering the state of goaltending (Talbot’s first shot goals and Koskinen’s glove side in), seems to point to a decline in the skills from a 20 goal scorer. This was playing on his preferred side and training in the offseason like he always does with Roberts. His excuse? Long playoff runs and lack of confidence creeping in. Considering he faired pretty well in Nashville and Vegas after long playoff runs, I don’t buy the first excuse.

    I’m not here to say we got the superior player, but don’t discount the fact that Neal is declining. Maybe 19 points is an aberration, but don’t expect a breakout season. He’s a floater and does zero without the puck. He might fit in with Nuge or McD, but he’s just taking away the points that Kassian or Chasisson would score there. The net effect might be 20 goals for Neal and 10 goals for Chaisson. Not exactly cutting into the goal differential.

    • Gary Chalmers

      He has a better shot then Kassian and Chiasson, and last year was the lowest shooting % of his career. If he doubles his % from last year to 10%, and gets the same amount of shots, he’ll score 15. If his shooting % is 10%, and he plays with McDavid, and gets some pp time, he will score 17-22 goals.

  • Derkus the circus

    Lucic is the mountain climber on the price is right that fell off the cliff because P.C overpriced him. And we all know the music. Now we can all dance because hes gone. Zero risk move. No chance it gets worse