Even with the acknowledgement that the James Neal situation had become untenable in Calgary, the decision to trade him for Milan Lucic of all the people in the league should be considered a fireable offense.
Yes, Neal was terrible last year. Yes, that contract was bad the day it was signed. Yes, he and coach Bill Peters spent the entire season at loggerheads about how he should be used. Neal wanted to get the top-six role he was effectively promised but didn’t deserve, while Peters wisely wanted to keep him stapled to the bench for as much of every game as possible.
But there were other routes out of this disaster of a deal than taking on one of the two or three worst contracts in the league. This was Brad Treliving deciding to fix the hole he accidentally put in the dining room wall by driving a bulldozer through the house.
Neal and Lucic are plainly not worth their contracts and will get farther away from those values as they age. But the difference is that Neal had his all-time worst season for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that he converted on shots at less than half of his career shooting percentage. The odds that he rebounds next year aren’t great but if he’s given an opportunity to build some chemistry with Connor McDavid or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, he certainly seems like a candidate to hit 20 goals again.
On the other hand, they tried Lucic with McDavid three years ago and it only kinda worked out. They tried it again two years ago and it was a disaster. This is a guy who simply can’t keep up in the modern NHL and who only does okay against low-end competition. Being a positive underlying-relative player isn’t that hard on the Oilers if you’re playing third lines most of the time, and even then, they still got out-just-about-everythinged with Lucic on the ice.
Right now a win is worth about $3.5 million in cap space, give or take. Over the next four years, Lucic will probably cost the Flames a little more than half a win a season (or one point in the standings) on average. The Oilers are therefore buying an effective guarantee that their provincial rivals will be a point worse than if they just used an AHL call-up in Lucic’s place for the low, low cost of $750,000. And all the while, he’s still gobbling up $5.25 million in cap space.
What should the Flames have done with Neal? Instead of acquiring a guy who, over the last two seasons, has a WAR of minus-0.8, the 38th-worst in the league among forwards, buying Neal out would be one option. Do that and he costs $1.9 million against the cap over the next eight(!) seasons, but neither takes a roster spot nor makes you actively worse, as Lucic does. That $1.9 million plus a replacement-level player probably costs you about $3 million or so. Cap savings of $2.25 million.
(You cannot, however, buy out Lucic thanks to his bonus-laden contract, though that would also be a preferable route even if you’re still paying those bonuses because at least then he’s not costing you wins.)
The other thing you could do is simply let Vancouver — also rumored to be in the hunt for Lucic — make the trade instead. Edmonton takes back, let’s say, Loui Eriksson and doesn’t improve, while Vancouver is made worse with Lucic. Win-win-win for Calgary. Alas.
Let’s also note here that this deal is also a clear overreaction to the Flames’ first-round loss to the Avalanche and the copycat decision to follow the Blues blueprint and “get bigger.” Calgary media people have been saying for months the Flames got bullied out of the first round, and so I’m guessing they internally decided Colorado’s “heavy” game is why they started Mike Smith in all five games and Philipp Grubauer had a .939 save percentage.
Yup, Lucic “makes everyone out there taller,” but he also makes them slower, less likely to score, and more likely to be scored on. All for just $5.25 million for the next four seasons? What a deal.
Anaheim Ducks: Calling Jakob Silfverberg’s 2018-19 “good” really feels like grading on a curve. He led the team with just 24 goals. The two next-closest guys had 18 each. Not good.
Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes almost traded for Jeff Carter instead of Phil Kessel? Yikes.
Boston Bruins: Good lord.
Buffalo Sabres: No question the goalies need to be better, but behind a defense with actual NHLers on it, that seems very possible.
Carolina Hurricanes: This trade almost makes sense.
Chicago: I think this is the first official Best Shape Of His Life story of the offseason. Rarely do you see it for a kid who’s only 22, though.
Colorado Avalanche: Yeah we know.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Oh, apparently everyone thinks Columbus is the “trading the contracts teams don’t want anymore” team now. Alright, sure.
Dallas Stars: I feel like I say it twice a week but you should really stop pumping Corey Perry as a depth scoring threat. Even if he ends up being that (doubtful), it’s not the most likely end result.
Florida Panthers: Seems like Artemi Panarin was never particularly interested in the Panthers and mainly used them as a stalking horse. Sounds about right.
Los Angeles Kings: To clarify, that’s three more years of Jonathan Quick after this year -- so four years in total of the Kings’ goaltender blocking any better young player that might come along.
Minnesota Wild: Is the answer to this, “Because when you might be a borderline playoff team at best, it’s always better to tank?” Because if it isn’t, it should be.
Montreal Canadiens: Oh my god.
Nashville Predators: Hell yeah.
New Jersey Devils: The Devils should do all three of these things. Then it might be easier to buy the hype around them.
New York Islanders: The cool thing about the Lucic trade is that everyone thinks they can trade their problems for another team’s problems like the other team’s problems aren’t still really bad.
New York Rangers: Artemi Panarin, welcome to #TheResistance.
Ottawa Senators: This is still the NHL right?
Philadelphia Flyers: If you get the chance to mega-hype a fifth-round pick so everyone thinks he’s a failure if he’s “only” a third-liner or something, you gotta take it.
Pittsburgh Penguins: These fan-projected over-unders of goal totals for every Penguin has them scoring under last season’s league average. I mean, they definitely got worse this summer, but not 30 goals worse.
San Jose Sharks: Honestly never gonna be surprised again when the Sharks say “This kid you’ve only vaguely heard of could score 20 next year.” It happens all the time.
St. Louis Blues: Even if it doesn’t, it would certainly benefit Vegas.
Tampa Bay Lightning: I would also be excited to join a team that will give me an easy .920 save percentage.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Well, there you have it.
Vancouver Canucks: I’ve seen a bunch of “Is Jake Virtanen ready for a breakout season?” headlines lately. Here’s one now. But let me stop you right there: Not really.
Vegas Golden Knights: Just sign the guy! What the hell!
Washington Capitals: Doing the finger thing that means money.
Winnipeg Jets: At this point, roster juggling looks like a necessity.
Gold Star Award
You have to respect Logan Couture being good-natured about the Red Wings posting a mean gif of him on Twitter. Then again, look where the Sharks are and look where the Red Wings are. Easy to be good-natured in those cases.
Happy Birthday, Magic Man! ✨ pic.twitter.com/0bV5QxRjur
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) July 20, 2019
Minus of the Weekend
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Tripp Longfellow” wants to know if he’s way off here.
Seabrook + Perlini (or a B prospect) + 2020 1st Round pick
Hey y’know what? I could call my maw while I’m up here. Hey maw! Get off the dang roof.
More NHL coverage from Yahoo Sports