Stop the broken record if you’ve heard this before, but James Neal‘s first season in Calgary was an utter disaster. Luckily, he is the first one to admit his shortcomings, but after signing a five year deal worth $5.75M per season, admission is not what many fans are looking for.
Neal was brought in on July 2nd of 2018 to be the Flames’ top line right wing, a bona-fide scorer, and a power play specialist that would hopefully make a third straight straight Stanley Cup finals appearance. I mean, how unlikely would it be that a guy who has scored 20 goals in every single season of his career would not hit that mark again? Of course Murphy’s Law appears to be alive and well in the city of Calgary.
Neal’s game may have fallen off of a cliff last season, but there is no guarantee that it will continue to plummet in future seasons. The 2018-19 campaign could be the lone outlier. That being said, if this is the version we will be seeing for the next four seasons, it’s best to get out from under it as soon as possible.
Rumours have been floating around recently that teams are kicking tires on Neal, specifically the Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators. Both present intriguing trade partners for the Flames, but for different reasons. Based on the rumours that have been presented, let’s see if there is any logical sense for the Flames to explore those routes.
To Nashville for Kyle Turris
Starting off with the “good”, this one suggests a reunion of Neal to his former team. Playing three seasons for the Predators, Neal amassed 77 goals and 136 points. I don’t think the Predators had any intention of seeing Neal leave town, but the Predators opted to keep their impressive defensive core intact and that resulted in exposing Neal in the expansion draft. Now, David Poile may be looking to rekindle the old magic he lost when Vegas entered the league.
Kyle Turris found his way to Nashville after being part of the blockbuster three team Matt Duchene deal. The Predators paid quite a price to acquire Turris, and immediately signed him to a six year, $36M contract. After being traded, Turris had a strong 65 games in the regular season, with 13 goals and 29 assists, but only amassed three points in their 13 game playoff run. This past season was a different story, where due to injuries, Turris was limited to just seven goals and 23 points in 55 games.
The idea of this trade right off the bat makes some sense: two big ticket players who underachieved last season and could benefit from a change of scenery. Digging into the stats (all data 5v5 from Natural Stat Trick) shows a bit more of why it makes sense:
Both players sport almost identical numbers. Essentially last season, both players played at the same level, with Turris having a ever slightly more productive offensive season.
Now there are two big asterisks on this deal. The first being that Nashville is equally as motivated to get out from Turris’ deal. Turris will be making more money per season for one additional year compared to Neal. If the Flames are trying to get rid of Neal’s contract, they would be hurting their cap even more if this deal was an old Peter Chiarelli one-for-one special. If salary was being retained or if the Flames were getting an additional asset, maybe that could balance out the AAV differential.
The second asterisk being that Turris is a centre, and unless the Flames are planning on moving someone like Mark Jankowski either out of the organization or to the wing, there isn’t a logical fit for Turris. Undoubtedly, Turris would be an upgrade over Jankowski, but on the same team the middle of the ice starts getting clogged.
Although this is the “good” option, and trust me it is, it may not be worth the hassle.
To Edmonton for Milan Lucic
This is real people, or at least rumoured to be. We won’t spend much time on this because well, it’s Milan Lucic.
Neal and Lucic both have four years remaining on their contracts, but Lucic is being paid the same as Turris on an annual basis. Lucic’s struggles have been well documented, but would it shock you to know that Lucic had more points than Neal last season? Of course Lucic played more games, and played about a fifth of his season alongside Connor McDavid, so maybe the numbers do lie. The stats are also very even between the two players:
Although he holds the slight edge, Lucic’s style of play simply clashes with the style of the modern day NHL, and he struggles to keep up with even average NHLers. While Neal struggled last season, there is still the opportunity for him to buck the trend. Lucic has shown over his three season in Edmonton why he would be a dangerous pick up.
Brad Treliving should know better.
To Edmonton via Vancouver for Loui Eriksson
I guess this is a thing too?
Another proposed rumour was a three team All-Canadian crappy contract trade. The rumour suggests that Neal would end up in Edmonton, Lucic would go home to Vancouver, and Loui Eriksson would land in Calgary.
Signed in 2016 to a six year, $36M contract, Eriksson has been nowhere near the type of player the Canucks expected. In three seasons he has 32 goals, only two more than he scored in his final season in Boston. He also only has 44 points in those three seasons combined, and has often found himself in the bottom of the lineup. The stats just show how bad his last season was:
Neal may have had his struggles, but Eriksson had a much tougher go of it. Of course they were playing on two completely different teams, which affects the numbers, but also shows that Eriksson doesn’t have much value at the moment.
Although one less season being on the payroll compared to Neal is attractive, he is being paid more to do less. Probably a no-go as well.
You’re saying there is a chance?
Any of the aforementioned deals could go down because it’s entirely possibly the Flames want to move on from Neal by any means necessary.
They could be doing it at a detriment, but perhaps the Flames would be interested in taking on a Turris in hopes of a better outcome. Eriksson and Lucic hold contract clauses that could prevent their movement to Calgary, which could make their deals non-starters.
On the other hand, what if Neal turns it around? Neal played 776 minutes of NHL hockey this regular season, and only spent 29 of them with Sean Monahan and 74 of them with Johnny Gaudreau. He didn’t really earn an opportunity with the dynamic duo; just over an hour as a line together isn’t that fair of a demonstration. Plus, imagine the headlines should Neal go on to be McDavid’s coveted scoring winger. If Alex Chiasson can score 22 on McDavid’s wing, the sky is the limit for Neal. It would be a two-fold disaster.
The Flames may be better off keeping James Neal for at least one more season before exploring any of the rumoured trade deals. Brad Treliving has been known to pull of bold trades, so perhaps there is another one in the pipelines that we don’t know about quite yet.
What do you think? Which rumoured trade option would the Flames pursue? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @wincolumnblog
Stay tuned for more Flames content this off-season from The Win Column!
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