On this day in 2019, the Edmonton Oilers acquire forward James Neal from the Calgary Flames
Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
On this day in 2019, the Edmonton Oilers acquired forward James Neal from their provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames, in exchange for forward Milan Lucic and a third-round draft pick in 2021.
It’s not often the Oilers and the Flames get along for a few moments to work out a deal, but that’s what they did to conceive a blockbuster trade that swapped two former 30-goal scorers across Alberta.
In acquiring Neal, there was hope that the veteran forward would bring a much-needed scoring touch to the team’s lineup, and if that didn’t work out, they knew they could buy him out at a much more palatable number than that of Lucic. With an impressive track record as a goal-scorer, his arrival in Edmonton sparked excitement among fans and management.
Neal joined the Oilers after a disappointing season with the Flames, where he struggled to find his once wondrous scoring touch pocketing only seven goals and 19 points and sliding down from the top line where he played alongside then-Flames superstar Matthew Tkachuk. He didn’t fit into Calgary’s mould, and one season after inking a five-year deal worth $5.75 million AAV in 2018, he was off to Edmonton.
“Last year was a tough year. Obviously, you blame yourself. You (have) to try and fix your game and come back stronger,” Neal told the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson after the news of his change of address broke.
In stepping into the City of Champions, the organization hoped that a change of scenery would revitalize the veteran forward and allow him to regain his abilities. In his first few games with the Oilers, Neal started to look like his old self recording a hat trick in the team’s season opener resulting in a 3-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks. It was a promising start that had Oilers fans buzzing with excitement.
He ended the season with 19 goals and 31 points — a respectable total considering the team’s struggles. He provided much-needed offensive firepower despite missing five weeks with an ankle injury, and helped the team stay competitive with a shooting percentage of 17 percent, well above his career average of 11.9 percent.
The shortened 2020-2021 season, played amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, presented additional obstacles for all players. Neal struggled to find his rhythm and managed just five goals and 10 points in 29 games while dealing with lingering COVID symptoms throughout the season. His decreased role and inability to generate consistent offence led to speculation about his future with the team.
In late July of 2021, the Oilers placed the veteran forward on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a contract buyout, and just days after Neal cleared waivers, the Oilers bought him out with two years remaining on his $5.75 million contract, the team still carries a $1.91 million cap hit through the end of the 2024-25 season. He signed with the St. Louis Blues the following October, but spent more time with their AHL club, the Springfield Thunderbirds. He hasn’t played since.
An Edmonton Journal article from July 20, 2019 details the trade the Edmonton Oilers made sending Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal.
As for the other end of the deal, when the Oilers acquired Lucic as a free agent in 2016, he displayed a bruising presence as a power forward known for his physicality and scoring ability. However, his tenure in Edmonton would ultimately be marked by both moments of success and frustrating inconsistency.
Lucic’s arrival in Edmonton was met with high expectations. He had just finished a solid season with the Los Angeles Kings, recording 20 goals and 55 points. Oilers fans hoped that his physical presence and scoring ability would complement the team’s young offensive talents, including Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and create a daunting offensive force.
In his first season with the Oilers in 2016-17, Lucic made an immediate impact scoring 23 goals and 50 points. Lucic’s contributions helped the Oilers reach the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, as they made it to the second round before being eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks. It seemed like the Oilers had found the missing piece to their puzzle.
However, as the seasons progressed, Lucic’s production began to decline. In the following two seasons, he managed only 10 goals and 35 points in 2017-18 and six goals and 20 points in 2018-19, raising concerns about his ability to contribute offensively. His physicality and aggressive playing style remained assets, but his lack of offensive output became a significant point of criticism as he slid down the lineup.
In an effort to shake things up, Lucic waived his no-move clause and was traded off to the Flames. The trade was viewed as an attempt to change the team’s chemistry and provide a fresh start for both players. Lucic’s departure from Edmonton marked the end of a turbulent tenure that had promised much but ultimately fell short of expectations. Edmonton would retain 12.5% of Lucic’s remaining seven-year, $42 million contract signed back in 2016.
To this day there is still plenty of debate to which team won the trade, but both players brought both excitement and hope to the Oilers organization at one point in time, but in the same way both players never quite lived up to expectations.
The third-round conditional draft pick in 2021 ended up being Kirill Kirsanov, but was traded on July 26th, 2021 to the Los Angeles Kings for a sixth-round pick (Jack Beck) and a third-round pick (Cameron Whynot) in 2021.
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