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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:


    • Ken McTippett

      Neal is going to get every opportunity to score goals with the Oilers. If he doesn’t succeed here, that means he is truly washed up. As far as Lucic goes, I’m afraid the big old lug is firmly entrenched in washed-up-ville but can’t admit it. His excuse for not performing as well as he should have in Edmonton is kind of lame.

      • Hemmercules

        Seems like the Oilers are just a bump in the road for some players. They get their overpay and ride it out for a while only to learn a lesson and move on. Hall was too good for offseason training until he got traded, Looch was too proud to have skills coaching and now he’s gone. Not enough accountability going around in Edmonton but thats a broken record at this point. Hopefully they get some with Holland at the helm.

  • Nanook

    great article. Sad as it was I think Looch was a victim of the hype. We made him into much more than he was at his point of career and he bought into it believing he was too. I like Looch, I love watching him patrol the ice and line up players. that hit that sent the Nashville player head over heals will never be forgotten. This was a needed change for both players and I hope it works out well for both.

  • The Beej

    You have to hope he regains his scoring touch because if he doesnt there are no other redeeming aspects to his game.

    So far all the chatter on the EDM side of this has been positive and glass half full.

    Yes Neal has a way better chance in EDM at bouncing back but there is still risk at 6.5m per year.

    After watching him last year there is not much he does to compliment or elevate the play of others. He has a nice shot and some hockey sense so he should fit with any of EDMs top three.

    The problem will be if he doesnt regain his scoring touch. He is a possession anchor and he gives the puck away a lot so he is really not suited for a checking role. If he cant score there isnt much of a place for him in your lineup.

    • Joy S. Lee

      “If he can’t score there isn’t much of a place for him in your lineup.” Yes, of course you are right to that end, but let’s give some benefit of the doubt to an off-year after a decade of scoring often, his on- and off-ice chemistry with McDavid, and a sense of rejuvenation and new opportunity. It says something that he saw this as his best fit. The Oilers needed scoring, and he has a history of doing that. The spotlight and pressure will be on him… looks like he’s okay with that. With his designated role, I’m pretty sure he’s going to fit in just fine. If he doesn’t score, we’ll look to the South to see how many Looch has potted, but whatever way we cut it, this was the right trade for both teams, no matter what the risks may be.

  • Gary

    Gonna say this one more time, then that’s it…
    Chaison scored 22 goals playing with Mcdavid @ $675K
    Maroon scored 27 goals playing with Mcdavid @ $1.5 million
    Draisaitil scored 25 and 50 goals playing with Mcdavid @ $8.5 million
    How many must Neal score IF he plays with Mcdavid @ $6.5 million to be deemed a success?
    Neal needs to score at least 15 on the second line and Lucic score under 10 on CGYs third line to warrant a successful trade and a clear win.
    This is a very close trade but tilts to the Oilers with the contract buy out clause

    • chezzychez

      At the very least Neal will have the same production as Looch with less pims. With that and getting rid of one of the worst structured contracts in the league this trade is a massive win. Not sure why people are trying to convince otherwise. I’d way rather have a topline for 6.5mill than a bottom line guy getting paid 6mill LOL

  • The Iggy complex

    Last 3 seasons they gave had very similar point totals. Lucic, averaged over 3 years, has had much better play driving stats and better defensive stats. Oilers gave up the better player and retained salary

  • Ken Holland

    The black cloud of Lucic has been lifted.

    Every conversation regarding the Oilers always had Milan in it. Whether it be with flames, leafs or any other teams fans, Lucic always came up.

    It’s a fresh start, and that is the biggest gift Neal can give us. Looking forward to seeing him slot in on the powerplay and let them rip.

    Worst case here, it doesnt work out, we buy him out and we have closer to 30 mil in cap space next year. Trade Russell and we will have closer to 34 mil.

    Good times ahead. In Holland we trust.

  • blobbo

    Candid conversation with Lucic. No doubt he came here with the best of intentions and the highest of hopes. Then Maroon arrived and took it all away. Lucic never recovered.

  • ifiwasgm

    Edm currently has $4.88mil of dead cap space (from buyouts and retained).
    If the buy-out Neal, roughly another $2mil.
    Can Edm compete for a championship with $6.5mil of dead cap space?

    Buy-outs SUCK. I am sick of hearing about more buy-outs!

    • Rhoethbeorth

      Gryba’s hit comes off after 2019-20; in 2020-21, Pouliot’s goes away and Sekera’s drops to $1.5M, leaving the Oilers with a total hit of $2.25M (incl. Lucic salary). Even if the Oilers were to buy out Neal, they would likely still be okay, due to the expected cap increases over that time, but the point is they wouldn’t have to… unlike Lucic, Neal has no NMC and can be traded rather than bought out. Hell if all they got back was a late-round pick, so what?

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Both the Value Villagers and the Oilers have to hope their goaltending gamble and the Lucic Neal swaps work, cause if they dont there will be some buyers remorse going on

  • jesse says yep

    @Jason Gregor
    The part of your article where you laid the difference of the games played between the 2 players due to injury , was interesting. Is it possible that Holland is making 2 bets? One in that Neil will provide more offense than Lucic has. And the second, and worst case, that Neil has a greater chance of missing large portions of the season and providing ltir cap relief that Lucic never seemed like he was going to provide?

    • Jason Gregor

      Unless a player is on LTIR for a long time there is little savings and in many cases they are just placed on IR, not LTIR.
      In 2017 the longest stretch he missed was 11 days and four games. He missed 11 days, 10 and seven. So not enough time to be on LTIR.

      Then in 2018 the longest consecutive streak he was out was 17 days (eight games).
      Last season he was out for 36 days (17 games), but they never placed him in LTIR…

      So I doubt potential LTIR savings was part of it. I believe Holland made the deal because he firmly believes Neal will score more, even if he misses a few games with injuries.

  • Hooker

    What to expect from James Neal? Good question. He was a floater who picked up some garbage in Calgary. Apparently he thought he knew more than the coach as well. Played on how many teams in the past 5 years? That should be a red flag that a consistent 20 goal scorer is moved around that much. But hey, he probably will score a bunch if he plays with McDavid, if doesn’t play with McDavid, expect a bunch of whining and unhappy teammates

    • Ken McTippett

      To be fair, the last team he played for, Calgary, he wasn’t traded to. He signes as a free agent and Flames fans were talking Stanley Cup. 🤷‍♂️

      • DraiCup

        he only was traded twice…Vegas claimed him in the expansion draft and he became an All Star that year. I don’t expect him to get back to that but it’s not like Neal has bounced around that much prior to that. Clearly he’s no superstar player and he is overpaid at this point in his career. As so many people have pointed out most important thing is his contract can be bought out at a reasonable rate. It’s really up to Neal how his career continues. He’ll get his chance here with the best player in the world to get back to the 20 goal plateau. If he can’t do that oilers will buy him out at 1.9 thus saving around 3 mil or expose him in the expansion draft. That’s ten times better than having buyoutproof Lucic on the books for four more years. If Lucics decline continues in Calgary they’re stuck with him. It’s a blessing we got rid of that contract.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      whoo you Value Village fans are sure upset about getting Looch… Hey cheer yourself up by running down to your local goodwill or Value Village store and pluck one of the many Lamers jerseys that got thrown on the ice from their discount bin…

  • TKB2677

    When I read Lucic’s comments, I just rolled my eyes because I think it’s a load of BS. I would love to know exactly what he thought he was supposed to do coming here?

    When he was signed here, he was signed to be a big, physical, nasty player who brings some vet leadership to the team, to play in the top 6 and score around 20 goals and 45-50 pts. So to do exactly like he had done for 8 previous years before coming to Edmonton. If he had of done that, while no one would ever love the contract, they would have been fine with it. He did exactly what he was brought in to do first year and people were fine with him. The only negative that was being said about him was the thought he wouldn’t sustain it over the life of the contract. No one expected him to be a saviour, McDavid was here. No one expected him to be a 40 goal, 80 pts guy. All he had to do was play his game and he would be fine.

    So all this “pressure” was completely fabricated in his head and is an easy cop out for him.

  • Serious Gord

    “There is no doubt Neal is a very good goal scorer…”

    Wrong.

    He WAS a very good goal scorer. Whether he can return to being one is very much in doubt.

    This morning yyc radio reviewed the paltry few goals he did score last season. ALL of them were incidental – of his foot, flutter/fluke shot, great play by line mate etc.

    And their is no way of knowing whether he was also poison in the room. Certainly that is something being raised by fans in YYC.

    That noted, it is almost unanimous in yyc that Lucic is a worse player.

      • HOCKEY83

        Oiler fans seem to know. Anytime the oil traded away a good player over the last few seasons all of a sudden ON blows up about how that player was a problem in the dressing room. I’ve even seen it here regarding Looch since he was traded away. You did it to Hall and Eberle. It sucks how you keep getting players that were a problem in the dressing room. As far as Neal goes there has never been any article that’s ever come out regarding him being a problem in the dressing room. If he does get to play up on one of the top 2 lines I certainly can see him getting 20+ goals. I’ve always liked Looch and Neal but unfortunately it went bad for both teams. Hopefully a change of scenerie will be good for both. Edmonton needs to get back to the playoffs so a real BOA can start up again.

    • MrBung

      Agreed. Everyone needs to pump their brakes on how much he will score and bounce back. Strome and Reider goal projections were also pumped up beyond expectation and always in context of playing with McDavid.

    • SkatinginSand

      It is true that there is no guarantee that he will regain his goal scoring ability, but even Ovechkin would have trouble scoring if he was dependent on getting a good pass from the Janitor. Neal played well over 300 min. with Jankowski.

  • Bond 0097

    The stats in the article bode well for the resurgence of Neal’s goal scoring likelihood. Poor Nuge has been waiting for a trigger man his whole career, or at least since Eberle left. I think the addition of Neal along with maybe Benson and some of the new signings is going to really move the needle for the Oilers. We are definitely much improved over last year, even if you are only going by the people we moved out. Addition by subtraction at the very least

      • BobbyCanuck

        Nuge alway always prefers to pass it to Ebs or Hall, with both of them gone, he had no choice but to start making his own dikes, and taking his own shots. Nugey, were you surprised that you could actually carry a line? I wasn’t, after all you were a 1st over all pick for a reason

  • blobbo

    I’m wondering how much the McDavid factor plays into this. Some history:

    Edmonton wins the lottery. Exit GM and coach, enter experienced GM and coach (the two that happen to be available). Speculation is that the McDavid side wanted experienced people.

    McDavid breaks collar bone. GM signs Lucic (although to a horrible contract) to protect him.

    Fast forward. Lucic gets traded for a guy McDavid is familiar with. It could be assumed (at least by me) that McDavid prefers a guy who can score some goals rather than a TKO.

  • chezzychez

    Opening night line-up barring anymore adds:
    Draisaitl – Mcdavid – Kassian
    Nygard – Nuge – Neal
    Khaira – Gagner – Chaisson
    Granlund – Cave – Archibald
    Jurco

    Klefbom – Larsson
    Nurse – Benning
    Jones – Russell
    Persson

    Benson gets called up with in the first 15 games.

      • chezzychez

        Sounds like Neal prefers being on the right side if his centerman is a lefty. Lines him up to let it rip easier. He just did an interview with Stauffer where he talked a bit about it.

  • A-co

    If he’s playing with McDavid anything less than 25 goals will be a disappointment…15 goals on the 1st PP unit should be a given…it’s awesome Kenny got out from under that lucic deal…well played Kenny..well played

  • ed from edmonton

    For guy who has really been hammering the Oil about not being invested enough in advanced stats I’m surprised Gregor doesn’t mention a thing about them in this article. Do as I say, not as I do? I understand that Nea;’s advanced stats last year were terrible.

  • The Rookie

    The moves Holland has made are great in that the cost is acceptable, and only higher if the players perform. – mike smith has incentive laden bonuses, the Lucic trade didn’t cost us Puljujarvi and only spends more assets if Neal out performs. Even when the team is competitive I hope Holland continues this type of bartering. Let’s face it, if Lucic was making $2.5/year with another $2M for every 10 goals scored, very few would care if he was riding fourth line. The little things on contract and trade negotiations are making a world of difference.

  • Rhoethbeorth

    “In acquiring Neal, Katz is paying him around $9 million more in actual cash than what they’d he paid Lucic.”

    Only if he stays in Edmonton for the term of his contract. Unlike Looch, Neal has no NMC, and can be traded for a pick or two if he doesn’t pan out. Hell, trade him for a bag of pucks and some spare parts for the Zamboni, if that’s all you can get; it’ll still be cheaper than the buyout-proof contract the Flames are now stuck with.

  • CMG30

    The Oilers have playmakers, what they don’t have is enough finishers. Neal is a finisher. Hopefully he regains his form here. If so he’s probably got 3-4 Good years left…

  • Kurt

    Holland on Stauffer today: talks of the Neal for Lucic talks started just before the draft. Heated up again this past monday the 15th, Lucic then talked with calgary coaching staff and management on Wednesday. Friday the deal was done.

    Source on the 18th: “All quiet” on trade rumours. “has never been any serious discussions” from person close to calgary. riiiiiiiight.

  • billsbills

    This trade is a 1000 times better than Lucic plus “a sweetener” for Eriksson. Dreger said that would be the best Holland could get for Lucic. He can suck it.

        • Cageyvet

          I don’t blame you, but we weren’t taking your boat anchor with an even worse contract without something good added on. To me, the Oilers win this with the better contract flexibility, Neal’s performance could go either way, but Lucic needs to bring it to make the NMC he has remotely worth it. Must be nice to not have Chiarelli handling your business.

  • Dave2

    Something about Neal makes me a bit leery. I get the feeling that he feels entitled based on his years in the game. I don’t think humble is in his repertoire. Why if went to Gary Roberts camp last year why didn’t he show up at game time.

    It is good we have Tippett. He will not tolerate a poor attitude or a sense of entitlement.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Kent Wilson is using shot location heat maps on The Athletic to try and prove Lucic is actually the better player. This is the trade that keeps on giving. Holland is a wizard, that is all.

  • ROILYDoGG$

    Possible Opening night roster :
    Draisaitl – Mcdavid – Kassian
    Nygard – Nuge – Neal
    Pulj(?) -Granlund(C)– Chaisson
    Khaira – Cave – Archibald
    Jurco(Wildcard), Haas( ?)

    Klefbom – Larsson
    Nurse – Benning
    Russell- Jones
    Persson

    They should play Pulj with a Granlund if PJ decides to stay here, gives him a Fin to bond with and make him feel good 🙂 obviously Chia never did that for the kid who came over, no friends and couldn’t speak English. Hell move them in together.
    Keep Benson down and call up for injuries only, unless he’s unreal down in the bake. He should start next year no problem.

    Power play. 1, Chiasson in front of the net(worked pretty well), with Neal as the trigger man on the Rh wall.
    Chaisson, Leon, Neal
    MCD -Klef

    Power P2
    Pj nuge Nygard
    Benning Nurse