20James Neal
Photo Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Still nothing official on the James Neal conditional pick

Over at Sportsnet, Chris Johnston looked at some of the conditional picks that are floating around the NHL right now and given the league’s hope to hold the draft in early June, he gave his best guess on what’s going to happen. When it came to the conditional third-round pick that was included in the James Neal for Milan Lucic trade, Johnston admitted that this situation could be the murkiest of the bunch.

As of this morning, the Oilers have only five of their seven picks (1st, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th) heading into the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and so figuring out what’s going to happen with the conditional third is going to be incredibly important. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that a player picked in the third round will make it anywhere close to the NHL, but having more at-bats at the Draft is undoubtedly preferable whether those picks are being used to make a selection or as part of a trade. When it comes to what will happen with the conditional third-round pick that was thrown into the Lucic for Neal trade from last July, Johnston summed it up as so:

If we were to sum this one up in emoji form, it would get the “side eyes.” Neal sat on 19 goals (in 55 games) when the season was paused while Lucic had eight — totals that, if prorated, would meet the conditions requiring Edmonton to send a third-rounder to its biggest rival. But should those goal totals even be prorated? Taken at face value, Neal didn’t score the 21 goals needed to satisfy the first condition. I’m not sure there is a completely fair solution here, which is why a rare Battle of Alberta trade is arguably the murkiest involving conditional 2020 picks.

In early April, Ken Holland jumped on a conference call and weighed in on the subject, and from where he sits, he sees only one possible outcome as for what will happen:

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“He had to score 21 goals. If you look at the trade memo, there is nothing in there about pro-rating” or anything. It’s pretty black and white. If we’re able to complete the season, it will play itself out and hopefully, James scores a few more goals because we’re going to need some to play our way into the playoffs. But if not, my understanding is we’d get our third-round pick back.”

So what will actually happen next? Your guess is as good as mine, but there’s little doubt that this situation is going to piss some people off no matter what happens if they go ahead with the early-June draft. On Friday night, Elliotte Friedman reported that the NHL will be looking to help teams through these types of tricky scenarios by allowing them to renegotiate deals while also offering possible compromises so that they can carry on in June rather than delay the entry draft.

For conditional trades, the league would propose solutions to both sides. The teams would then have seven days to either reform the deal on terms acceptable to both, or accept the NHL’s idea.

I cannot wait to see how this shakes out because I can’t see how these deals can be fairly renegotiated with the benefit of months of hindsight. Yesterday, Gregor gave his take on the situation and couldn’t figure out how the NHL can possibly navigate these types of situations without making themselves look foolish.

Why should Ken Holland negotiate a new deal at this point? Or even Brad Treliving? Holland doesn’t have a fourth rounder (went to Detroit for Mike Green), while Brad Treliving would look at a fifth rounder much differently than a third. Both GMs could argue in favour of why the current goal totals favour them.

This is just one example, but imagine the league making a decision prior to the season being finished. What if they rule in favour of the Oilers and Calgary gets nothing? Then the NHL completes the regular season and Neal scores two goals and finishes with 10 more than Lucic. The Flames get screwed.

And if the league rules in Calgary’s favour, the Oilers could get screwed if play resumes and Neal doesn’t score two goals, or maybe he does, but Lucic scores four and finishes only nine back of Neal.

There is zero reason to risk losing credibility over this.

Personally, I am eager to find out how the NHL is going to hold the draft before the season wraps up and expect to not create a mountain of problems for themselves. Over the past handful of years, the draft has become a weekend full of player movement and blockbuster trades, and I just don’t see how any of that can happen if half of those clubs are going to be finishing up the season weeks or months that follow. Will teams that have been eliminated from contention go on making deals as though nothing has changed while the playoff teams have to sit on their hands? I know the NHL wants to recoup some of the lost TV revenue, but they have to have a better idea than this, don’t they? I mean, I know the draft is a big event but couldn’t they squeeze it into a weekend between the end of the current season and the beginning of the next? Why does it have to happen in June in the league has no problem resuming the season in August?

All I know for sure is that this whole situation is going to get weird and there are going to be a lot of losers in these NHL mediated conditional scenarios. Something something horse before the cart something something.

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