Two weeks ago, the Edmonton Oilers sent veteran forward Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for veteran James Neal and a conditional draft pick. Both forwards had rather disappointing seasons in 2018. Nonetheless, management from both organizations decided to take a chance with each forward. Both organizations were hoping that a change in scenery would boost their acquired player’s production. Despite each organization’s well wishes, the Edmonton Oilers are winners in the James Neal-Milan Lucic trade.
Oilers Win The James Neal-Milan Lucic Trade
James Neal was the Real Deal
Last season was Neal’s first year with the Flames under his five-year contract that he signed during the 2018 offseason. Neal had high expectations entering Calgary. He had just previously had a strong season with the Vegas Golden Knights. Neal’s veteran presence was a big factor in the Golden Knights’ success. On top of being a leader for the team, Neal proved his worth on the ice as well.
Neal put up 25 goals with 19 assists in 71 games. The talented goal scorer then helped to lead the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in its inaugural season. In the postseason, Neal put up 11 points in 20 games. These numbers left him tied for third in points among his teammates. Dubbed the nickname the “real deal” for his spectacular goal-scoring abilities, Neal was truly a natural goal scorer, and one of the most adept shooters in the NHL. Neal, in each of his 12 seasons (except last season with the Flames and one other year) has scored at least 20 goals each season, including 40 goals during the 2011-12 season.
From All-Star to Healthy Scratch
Neal struggled this season in his new home with the Flames, however. He put up a disappointing seven goals and 12 assists in 63 games. This James Neal was not who Calgary thought they were getting when they signed him last summer. On top of an appalling regular season, Neal was completely invisible during the playoffs. In the four-game Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Colorado Avalanche, Neal failed to register a point and was minus-three in those four games. Adding on to Neal’s horrific postseason was that Neal was a healthy scratch for game five, a game where Calgary was facing elimination and ultimately lost.
The Milan Lucic Machine
Just like Neal, Milan Lucic also had a rotten season in Alberta, but with the Oilers and not with the Flames. Last season was Lucic’s third season with the Oilers organization. In his tenure, in Edmonton, his points have decreased by at least 14 each season. Last season, Lucic tied a career-low for points with 20. Except, the last time he put up 20 points, he played 29 fewer games than he did last season. The six-foot-three, 231 pound forward is a complete wrecking ball on the ice. Lucic is an enforcer, but he also chips in on the offensive end. In five of Lucic’s 12 seasons in the NHL, he has racked up at least 20 goals, including a 30 goal season, and two seasons with over 60 points.
Is Milan Lucic’s Heyday Behind Him?
In each of Lucic’s last four seasons, however, his points have decreased. And as the NHL continues to become faster and faster each year, Lucic’s time in the NHL appears to be running out. For a big guy who does not move on the ice as gracefully as others, Lucic makes his presence known with big hits and his knuckles. But with each NHL season, the league continues to become filled with more talented and skillful players. For Lucic, that is not good. Lucic was never a player with finesse or who had much speed in his game. Now with each season, it’s hard to imagine the 31-year-old enforcer becoming more agile with the puck. It will be a difficult challenge for Lucic to become the forceful figure he once was on the ice as each season progresses. With that said, Lucic’s terrible season may not have been a fluke. But perhaps a new daunting reality.
The Battle of Alberta Just Became More Personal
So after both Neal and Lucic had horrendous seasons with their respective hockey clubs, management decided it was time for a change. For the Oilers, the move makes sense. In Lucic’s three seasons with the Oilers, the team had only made the playoffs once. And with the talent right now in Edmonton with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, there is no excuse for being as awful as the Oilers were. So, you have to find a way to win. Therefore, getting rid of Lucic, who had a bad year, is not a wrong move, especially when you are getting James Neal in return.
Why Edmonton Won the Trade
Now James Neal will get a chance to play with arguably the best player in the world: Connor McDavid. If you put a natural goalscorer like Neal alongside the phenom of McDavid, the goals are most likely going to be ringing in for Neal. With McDavid’s speed and his talented playmaking abilities, Neal is going to thrive. All Neal will have to do is get open and McDavid will find him. Not only will Neal have the chance to play with McDavid, but he will also have the opportunity to play with Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl had a terrific season last year. He put up 105 points including 50 goals in 82 games.
Remember, Neal’s best season was with the Pittsburgh Penguins was during the 2011-12 season in which Neal put up 40 goals and 41 assists. Who was Neal playing alongside? Evgeni Malkin. Evgeni Malkin that year was the best player in hockey. Malkin led the league in points with 109 and was second in goals with 50. Last season, Mcdavid was second in points with 116. So if you put Neal on Mcdavid or Draisaitl’s wing, all signs point to Neal having a good year.
McDavid’s Playing Style is Best Suited for James Neal’s Shooting Mentality
James Neal recently said in an interview that he plays his “best hockey around guys that can move the puck. [And,] For…[him], …[he’s]… a shooter and… do[es his] best hockey when…[he’s]… getting open and finding fresh ice.” And that getting “a chance to play with [McDavid]… that would be great, the way he dishes the puck fits my style.'”
James Neal is absolutely right. If Neal is put alongside McDavid on the wing, not only will the line be successful, the line could be deadly. James Neal’s scoring abilities alongside Connor McDavid’s adept passing and speed would be a scary sight for the rest of the NHL. The two could make a ton of noise next year.
Although Lucic had more points than Neal last season, the Flames did not win this trade. They jumped the gun on Neal after a bad first season with the organization. Now in return, they are getting back a player whose role in the NHL will continue to be diminished over time. Nonetheless, the main reason why the Oilers won this trade is not that the Flames lost it; it is because of the potential Neal-McDavid pairing or even a Neal-Draisaitl pairing. When you put a natural goal scorer with elite players like McDavid and Draisaitl, it is hard to imagine that Neal is going to have difficulties finding the back of the net. Therefore, Oilers are winners in the James Neal-Milan Lucic trade.
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