Calgary Flames

Sunday Census: James Neal, starting hot after the break, and trade deadline rumours

Welcome back to The Sunday Census. Throughout the week, The Win Column will be posing topical and intriguing polls on Twitter (@wincolumnblog) to gauge the fan-base’s stance on pressing issues. Want to make sure your opinion is taken into effect? Vote in the polls, start a debate, and propose alternative suggestions on the polls!

The gap between game 51 and 52 was far too long for Flames fans, and now all of a sudden the team has 30 games remaining in the season. The team has a ton going for it, and while the playoffs are an inevitability at this point, there is still a lot to look forward to over the next two months.

One of those things is seeing which player decides to have a hot streak over the next few games. The All-Star break can do a lot to a player, both positive and negative. The team has had a wealth of outstanding performances this season so far, take Johnny Gaudreau‘s recent first star of the month honour, but now the focus shifts to which player will catch fire next.

Any roster player could have been chosen here, but we focused on four: Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, James Neal, and Sam Bennett. Two players have had outstanding first halves and look to build on potential Hart and Norris trophy winning portfolios, while the other two are in need of a serious spark.

Bennett and Giordano got virtually no love here, with a combined 11% of the vote, but most likely for different reasons. Bennett has been hot and cold his entire career, and based on his season so far it may be hard to see him catching a serious hot-streak. Giordano on the other hand is more surprising. Being well rested after a nine day break, it wouldn’t shock me to see Giordano come back even better than he was before. Of course the fans run these polls and see neither as the most likely candidate.

Gaudreau got more love, at 18%, but still a small fraction. Perhaps because his season has been one long hot-streak that it is almost expected for Gaudreau to continue his play. Of course, a Gaudreau hot-streak usually means more team success. Perhaps he should have gotten more votes?

The real deal winner here was Neal, who took an overwhelming 71% of the vote. Neal’s relationship with the fan base is an interesting one to say the least. Outside of Mike Smith, he is easily the player who has under-performed the most. The fans may be frustrated with his lack of offence, but they continue to cheer for Neal on a consistent basis. If the team wasn’t a the top of the Western Conference, this would be a whole other story. For now though, I think the fans, myself included, want to see him catch fire.

As it is normally around this season, there are always a plethora of rumours floating around in the air in regards to potential deals that could be made before the NHL trade deadline. Mark Stone and Matt Duchene could be headed out of Ottawa, Artemi Panarin could be leaving Columbus, and many many more that would take too long to list out.

The Flames look to be bona fide buyers heading into the deadline; a position they have not been in for a long time. This is uncharted territory for Brad Treliving, who has yet to seriously undergo a “buying” deadline for the Flames. There have been a few rumours that have started percolating their way through Calgary. Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Dzingel appear to be linked to the team, while a Micheal Ferland reunion has been mentioned multiple times. What we wanted to see was out of those three potential rumours, which player would be the best addition to the Flames lineup?

Dzingel has had a strong season thus far on quite a poor Senators team. Sitting with 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) in only 49 games this year, Dzingel would fill the depth scoring need that is currently a hole for the Flames to fill. He plays on the left wing, which would make him an immediate upgrade over the currently bottom six deployments. He boasts plenty of speed and skill, which fits the mold of this team the best, while also playing much more of a defensive game compared to the other two players. He may have only gotten 18% of the vote, but he is my pick for the best fit on the team.

Ferland would be one heck of a story and 37% of voters agree. There would be no problem with team chemistry, but unfortunately Ferland would be the most expensive to acquire. There seems to be an arms race over the 26 year old winger, which just causes his price to increase as the deadline draws closer. He does check the physicality box, that this team is in need of, but Ferland screams buyer beware. I wish he was still on the Flames, but if the cost to acquire him is a first round pick that alone should send the Flames in a different direction.

With 45% of the vote, Zuccarello seems to be the fans’ choice for best fit. A skilled right winger that can play up and down the lineup, plus he boasts the best playoff resume of all candidates. Currently in the midst of a muted season, Zuccarello could be a low risk acquisition for the Flames. Although social media points towards a wealth of pieces going back to New York, in a buyers market Zuccarello could go for less than he is worth. Perhaps the best choice in terms of acquisition price, it’s tough to nail down a spot for him in the lineup. Of course that is a question for if this actually happens in the upcoming weeks.

As if we didn’t talk about him enough before, James Neal is the main focus of our final poll. Over the past two games, Neal has had at least four golden opportunities that simply could not be converted. Those missed chances kept him at five goals on the season. This is normally his time of year to shine, so we wanted to see how many goals fans think that he will finish with this season.

Fans are not very optimistic that Neal will be able to continue his streak of 20 goal seasons alive, as only 3% of voters chose that option. 15 goals over the final 30 games isn’t impossible, but it’s the least likely.

11% of voters think that he will finish between 15 and 20 goals on the season, and this is where my personal vote landed. Call me optimistic, call me crazy, but 10 goals over the final 30 games season achievable no? A couple of two goals nights and he is practically halfway there.

More skeptically, a higher majority of fans think that Neal will finish with less than 10 goals on the season. Yikes. I mean he has been bad this season, but only 4 goals in his next 30 games? I truly hope that this doesn’t happen.

A much more realistic target, and expectation, for Neal would be the most voted option: 10-15 goals. Although it would be disappointing in terms of original expectations, this is a number I think that is the most likely come April. I still believe he will score more, but if he can double what he has now and add one or two more then his season isn’t a total bust.

He is just saving all of the goals for the playoffs right?

Want to be a part of the conversation next time around? Follow us on Twitter @wincolumnblog and be sure to keep a look out for our polls throughout the week.

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