PHT’s Season Preview: 30 questions, 120 answers

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We made a list of 30 questions ahead of the 2015-16 NHL season, then we tried to answer those questions. Enjoy:

1. Of all the teams that missed the playoffs last season, the most likely to make the playoffs this season is…

Jason Brough: The Kings. I still wonder about their defensive depth, but this should be a very motivated group.

James O’Brien: The Kings. Edging their pals from San Jose by a hair.

Ryan Dadoun: The Kings. The extra rest alone should close the gap.

Mike Halford: Way to go out on a limb, guys. But you’re all wrong. It’s Columbus.

2. Of all the teams that made the playoffs last season, the most likely to miss the playoffs is…

JB: Vancouver. Especially if Ryan Miller starts the majority of games.

JO: Vancouver. Expect them to fall into the 10th-12th range of the Western Conference.

RD: Ottawa. The Sens have some promising young forwards, but I have reservations about their goaltending.

MH: Winnipeg. The Central Division is too hard. It’s kinda unfair.

3. One team that isn’t getting enough respect is…

JB: Florida. The Panthers’ extreme mix of youth and experience has definite playoff potential.

JO: San Jose. Still a ton of talent, now with a clean(er) slate.

RD: Toronto. I don’t think the Leafs’ fundamental problem has been a lack of talent. With Mike Babcock in charge, they might surprise by contending for a playoff spot.

MH: Columbus. I’m big on Columbus this year. Brandon SaadRyan JohansenNick Foligno will be one of the league’s highest-scoring lines.

4. One team that’s getting too much respect is…

JB: Columbus. I get why people are excited about the Jackets — there’s a lot of talent up front and in goal. But is that blue line good enough? I’m not so sure.

JO: Calgary. Although watch out in a couple of years.

RD: Minnesota. What happens if Devan Dubnyk doesn’t play like an elite goalie? Because that’s quite possible.

MH: Pittsburgh. The Pens have a real 2003 Colorado Avalanche vibe about them. (Also, don’t listen to Brough. Columbus! Columbus!)

5. The worst team in the NHL will be…

JB: Arizona. The Coyotes should finish in pole position to win the draft lottery. Given local boy Auston Matthews is projected to go first overall, you wonder if that’s been the plan all along.

JO: Arizona. But this isn’t the no-brainer that Buffalo was last season.

RD: Arizona. I want to be a contrarian, especially seeing as I like the Coyotes’ core of prospects, but they’re a ways off.

MH: Carolina. I’m only saying that to be different. (It’ll be Arizona.)

6. The biggest wildcard team (i.e. could be decent, could be a disaster) is…

JB: Vancouver. I know I said the Canucks would miss the playoffs, but they do have some young talent now. Bo Horvat is a future star. And if they give him the chance and he steps up, Jacob Markstrom has the potential to outplay Miller (and create yet another goaltending controversy).

JO: Columbus. Honestly, 2014-15 was so insane with all the injuries that it might as well be deleted from the ledger, although Nick Foligno’s accountant would disagree.

RD: Dallas. If that goaltending duo works out, and if Ales Hemsky and Patrick Sharp can bounce back, then the Stars could be a very dangerous team. None of those players are sure things though.

MH: Buffalo. Everyone’s expecting a significant leap forward, but the defense is still lousy and I have major doubts that Robin Lehner is the answer in goal.

7. The Canadian team with the best chance to win the country’s first Stanley Cup since 1993 is…

JB: I guess it’s still Montreal. It’ll be Calgary soon though, assuming the Flames figure out their goaltending.

JO: Montreal. They’re limited by their coach’s whims, but they have P.K. Subban and Carey Price.

RD: Montreal. The Habs aren’t my top pick to win the Cup, but they have the pieces to make a run.

MH: Quebec City.

8. The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs 24 straight seasons. Will they make it 25?

JB: Yes. Unless Pavel Datsyuk is hurt all the time. Even at 37, he’s still the key to their success.

JO: Yes. If Datsyuk were healthier, they’d be downright frisky. Love the addition of Mike Green.

RD: Yes. Excited to see what Dylan Larkin is all about.

MH: Yes. And James, please don’t say frisky. The Red Wings are not a dog that’s chasing a tennis ball.

9. Two teams are guaranteed to miss the playoffs in the Central Division. Those two will be…

JB: I’ll say Colorado and Minnesota. The former with a decent amount of confidence, the latter with practically none.

JO: Colorado and Winnipeg. Both have some strengths, yet their weaknesses (scheme for Avs, goaltending for Jets) leave them behind the impressive Central pack.

RD: Winnipeg and Minnesota. For the record, I am very uneasy predicting that.

MH: Winnipeg and Nashville. Very tough question, so I’ll just pick the two with the lowest payrolls.

10. Are the Chicago Blackhawks more likely to repeat as champions or miss the playoffs?

JB: Repeat as champions. Nobody’s done that in the salary-cap era, but some team will eventually. I actually think the Hawks upgraded at second-line center by getting Artem Anisimov.

JO: Miss the playoffs. The Blackhawks are no more immune to missing the postseason than the Kings were last season.

RD: Repeat as champions. They’ve had significant turnover, but they are still built for another serious run.

MH: Miss the playoffs. The last time they lost so many guys (after 2010), they barely qualified and lost in the first round.

11. Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel: who will finish with more points?

JB: McDavid. He’s a points machine, and he’s already showing chemistry with Taylor Hall.

JO: McDavid. Believe the hype.

RD: McDavid. As great as Eichel looks, which is pretty freaking great.

MH: McDavid. McDavid will score more with Hall, who’s a better trigger man than anyone Buffalo can put with Eichel. Yeah, yeah, Evander Kane scored 30 goals once. I know.

12. McDavid’s Oilers or Eichel’s Sabres – which team will finish higher in the standings?

JB: Sabres by a nose. But both teams still have serious blue-line deficiencies, with questionable goaltending to boot. I expect each to be back in the draft lottery.

JO: Oilers. It’s beyond “put-up or shut-up” time for the Oil, while Buffalo remains a work in progress.

RD: Oilers. Edmonton’s core is more firmly in place compared to Buffalo, which will need some time to come together.

MH: Brough’s right on this one, and it pains me to say that. Buffalo by the slimmest of margins.

13. If neither McDavid nor Eichel win rookie of the year, this player will:

JB: Sam Bennett in Calgary. Have I mentioned the Flames are going to be a serious contender soon?

JO: Sam Bennett. I know, not very creative.

RD: Sam Bennett. The Flames only had one good scoring line last season, but Bennett will help change that.

MH: I think James and Ryan are scared of disagreeing with Brough. I’ll take Max Domi in Arizona.

14. A young player (not a rookie) who’s primed to take the next step is…

JB: Evgeny Kuznetsov in Washington. He already took a step last season. If he takes another, the Caps have a legit shot of winning it all.

JO: Jonathan Drouin for the Bolts. The talent is obviously there. He just needs to earn his coach’s trust.

RD: Valeri Nichushkin in Dallas. He might have taken that step last season if not for his hip injury.

MH: Matt Dumba in Minnesota. His rise will also allow the Wild to cut Ryan Suter to a mere 47 minutes a night, which is nice.

15. The team that should be most worried about its goaltending is…

JB: Dallas. The Stars have a huge amount of cap space tied up in Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, neither of whom are trending in the right direction.

JO: Calgary. It’s astounding they made the playoffs considering how mediocre their net play was last season.

RD: San Jose. Martin Jones and Alex Stalock are cheap for a reason. Neither’s done much at the NHL level.

MH: Edmonton. The starter (Cam Talbot) has never been a full-time starter before. The backup (Anders Nilsson) has never been a full-time backup before. And behind that defense? Yikes.

16. The team that should be most worried about its defense is…

JB: Boston. Only Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have averaged more than 20 minutes in a full NHL season. Chara is 38. Seidenberg is 34, and starting the season hurt.

JO: Carolina. Justin Faulk is a gem, no doubt, but it feels like their defense has been leaky since … always?

RD: Edmonton. The Oilers have made strides towards addressing the blue line, but it remains a significant point of concern.

MH: Pittsburgh. The group was held together by medical tape last year, dressed two warm bodies in the playoffs, lost Paul Martin, and the big offseason get was… Adam Clendening?

17. The team that should be most worried about its forwards is…

JB: Nashville. True, guys like Craig Wilson and Colin Smith are underrated, but the Preds don’t have a Hart, Art Ross, or Selke candidate up front. When was the last time a team won a Cup without one or two of those?

JO: Toronto. People loved bashing Phil Kessel; just wait ’til they see the drop-off now that he’s gone.

RD: New Jersey. But drafting Pavel Zacha was a good start to solving the problem. Did you know that Zacha was the first forward the Devils drafted in the top 10 since Bill Guerin?

MH: Boston. Last year’s forward group struggled to score, and now it’s without Milan Lucic, Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith. Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes aren’t going to make it all better.

18. The player with the most to prove is…

JB: Alex Semin. With all that’s been said about him? He’d better have something to prove.

JO: Ryan O'Reilly got his money. Now it’s time to show he was worth it.

RD: Evander Kane’s time in Winnipeg didn’t end well. He’s getting a fresh start in Buffalo, surrounded by young talent.

MH: Rick Nash. Not regular season Rick Nash, of course — I mean playoff Rick Nash. The Rangers’ Cup window is closing, and he can’t pull another Houdini act as soon as the games start to matter. He’s paid to score goals.

19. The best free-agent addition will be…

JB: Paul Martin in San Jose. Under-the-radar signing. The Sharks should expect nothing less than getting back to the playoffs.

JO: Christian Ehrhoff for $1.5 million seems like a good deal for the Kings, as long as he can stay healthy.

RD: Cody Franson in Buffalo. The Sabres took advantage of favorable market conditions to get him at a steep discount.

MH: Justin Williams in Washington. Perfect fit for that team. HE WINS GAME 7’s!

20. Phil Kessel’s goal total: over or under 40?

JB: Under. That’s not a knock on Kessel; he’ll get a lot of goals. But only three guys scored more than 40 last year. It’s the new 50.

JO: Over, barely. A scary power play will push him over the top.

RD: Over. If Kessel could score 37 goals with Tyler Bozak as his regular center, then getting paired up with Sidney Crosby should be enough to push him over that hump.

MH: Under. He’ll get around 35, which is by no means a bad year.

21. Will Steven Stamkos re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning?

JB: Yes, with 70 percent confidence. I don’t think it’s a slam dunk, but come on, you don’t trade a guy like Steven Stamkos. Do you?

JO: Yes, big-time free agents almost never go free in the NHL, which is kind of a bummer in some ways.

RD: No. Stamkos is a critical part of the Lightning and if they weren’t able to come to terms with him this summer in spite of that, then that’s telling to me.

MH: Yes. The key is Steve Yzerman making the money work, which he will. He kinda has to.

22. One big-name player that will get traded before the Feb. 29 deadline is…

JB: Is Mark Streit a big name? I’ll say him. He’s 37 and has two years left on his contract. Obviously, he’s not part of the Flyers’ future. Might as well flip him to a contender.

JO: Dustin Byfuglien. Another tough call for Kevin Cheveldayoff, especially if the Jets are in a playoff position at the deadline.

RD: Eric Staal. Carolina is likely to miss the playoffs for a seventh straight season and there’s questions as to whether he’ll re-sign.

MH: Shane Doan. The Coyotes will to be horrible and, to thank Doan for his years of service, they’ll send him to a contender.

23. The first head coach to be fired will be…

JB: Claude Julien. Cam Neely says he’s not on the hot seat, but I have trouble believing that.

JO: Claude Julien, though I also considered Jack Capuano and Mike Yeo.

RD: Claude Julien, but I don’t feel great about that prediction.

MH: The three amigos strike again. You all said Claude Julien when there’s a perfectly good Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis.

24. The NHL general manager on the hottest seat is…

JB: Jarmo Kekalainen. Not because I think his job is in jeopardy, but he’s committed a lot of money to that roster and it’s time for some results. Just ask Blue Jackets superfan Mike Halford.

JO: Dale Tallon. The Panthers haven’t played self-destructive GM roulette in a while …

RD: Doug Armstrong. I’ve liked the Blues for a while now, but every year they fall flat in the playoffs causes the pressure on management to increase.

MH: Jim Rutherford. Did everybody forget that Pens ownership had to give him a vote of confidence after his first year on the job? Now imagine if Kessel’s a flop.

25. True or False: the NHL will expand to Las Vegas and Quebec City this season.

JB: True. I just have trouble picturing the owners saying “Nah, we’ll pass” on divvying up $1 billion. Never know if that money’s still there in the future.

JO: True. Although the wilting Canadian dollar does make me worry a bit about Nordiques Redux.

RD: False. The short-term payoff has to be weighed against the long-term risks, and Quebec City raises concerns because of its market size and the Canadian dollar. I think the NHL is more likely to wait for a market like Seattle.

MH: True. /makes money sign with fingers

26. I’ll be a happy hockey fan if…

JB: We see a legitimate Cinderella run in the playoffs. And don’t tell me the 2012 Kings already did that. I’m talking about a bad possession team like Calgary last year or Colorado the year before, but instead of getting knocked out early, it goes all the way. Let’s see a team beat Corsi!

JO: Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel produce rookie seasons that rival the ones by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. We can pretend they hate each other!

RD: A budget team wins the Stanley Cup. I know I just wrote that I don’t think Quebec City will end up with an expansion franchise, but I love seeing that type of market succeed.

MH: Some youngish veterans that got squeezed by the cap crunch get NHL jobs. Curtis Glencross being out of work at 32 makes me sad.

27. I’ll be a sad hockey fan if…

JB: Coaches find a way to ruin 3-on-3 overtime. Because you know they’ll try their best.

JO: The NHL doesn’t do anything to address the lack of goal-scoring.

RD: If McDavid or Eichel suffer a serious injury — and worse still, if it’s a concussion.

MH: The Canadian dollar keeps falling. I don’t know much about economics (OK I know nothing about economics), but I do know a sagging loonie makes free agency way less fun.

28. Your worst prediction from last season was…

JB: Picking the Flames to finish last. Not only did Calgary make the playoffs, the Sabres were so, so bad.

JO: Silly me for thinking the Pittsburgh Penguins would part ways with Marc-Andre Fleury.

RD: I didn’t have enough faith in Peter Laviolette and picked him to be the least successful new coach.

MH: I said Carolina’s goaltending situation would be the most interesting to follow, which was wrong because it wasn’t interesting at all.

29. The prediction you’re least confident about this season is…

JB: The expansion one, because the NHL clearly wants to be in Seattle. If somebody in that city can get their act together over the next few months, Quebec City could be out.

JO: Saying Calgary is getting too much respect. There’s decent reason to believe the Flames will be a better possession team this year. That wasn’t really the case with Colorado last season.

RD: Picking Claude Julien as the first coach to be fired. The first one to go is often out of left field.

MH: Everything pertaining to the Blue Jackets. I might be a little too high on Columbus.

30. Finally, make a crazy prediction that probably won’t happen, but on second thought, you never know…

JB: The Oilers miss the playoffs and win the draft lottery. An investigation is launched. People go to jail.

JO: Jaromir Jagr leads the Florida Panthers in scoring. His mullet finishes second.

RD: Connor McDavid wins the Art Ross Trophy. And, somehow, the Norris Trophy.

MH: The Canadian dollar makes a triumphant comeback, because it’s gritty and clutch, like a good Canadian kid.

Enjoy the season!

PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: Pat Maroon takes Cup back to St. Louis for some toasted ravioli

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The PHT Stanley Cup tracker will keep tabs on how the St. Louis Blues spend their summer celebrating.

Patrick Maroon probably could have had bigger contract offers last summer, while the one-year deal he ended up signing with the St. Louis Blues was a slight pay cut from his previous contract.

But he took a little less to get an opportunity to play for his hometown team and try to bring the city its first ever Stanley Cup. He helped the Blues do just that during the 2018-19 season, and even scored a couple of massive goals during the playoffs, including a double overtime Game 7 goal in Round 2 to clinch their series against the Dallas Stars.

This past week he had his opportunity to spend the day with the Stanley Cup and, naturally, took it back to St. Louis for the first time since the Blues’ initial Stanley Cup celebration.

It was quite a journey.


On Friday night the Stanley Cup made a surprise appearance The Muny, America’s largest and oldest outdoor musical theatre, to surprise the crowd that was there to watch a performance of Footloose.

It made quite an entrance!

From there, it went to the Maroon residence on Saturday morning for a special photo opportunity, 20 years after he had his picture taken with it at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Keeping with the tradition of using the Stanley Cup as a cereal bowl, Cinnamon Toast Crunch was consumed out of it with Maroon cleaning it out afterwards himself, according to Philip Pritchard, the keeper of the Cup.

Maroon then took it to the All-American Sports Mall in South St. Louis — where he played inline hockey as a kid — to share the experience with 250 family and friends.

Included among the friends were former teammates and coaches from his time as a youth roller hockey player.

Via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“Everyone makes fun of me playing roller hockey, but this is where I grew up playing,” he said. “To bring it back here is a very special day for me. To cherish these moments with the 250 people I invited, it’s a really private event that I feel like I know everyone here. To share that day with everyone, it really is amazing. It’s a big reunion for all of us to see each other and smile.

“It’s been one of the coolest memories I’ll ever have. It really doesn’t get full circle until you actually leave it, and wow, the Stanley Cup was just at All-American, the rink where I used to come from 9 in the morning to 5 o’clock and just sit and be a rink rat. It’s awesome.”

After that, it was off for a St. Louis speciality and some toasted ravioli at Charlie Gitto’s for lunch.

It was there that Maroon was joined by Blues super fan Laila Anderson.

Maroon ended his day at a nearby lake for private time with family and friends.


Before the Stanley Cup made its way back to St. Louis this past week, defender Robert Bortuzzo also had his day with the cup and took it to his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

“I’ll never be able to truly repay what this community has meant for me and my career in terms of growing up playing hockey as a young kid here,” Bortuzzo said, via the TBNewswatch.com. “It meant a lot for me to come and give the chance for some people to see it and put some smiles on faces at George Jeffrey. It was an easy decision to share it with a great community.”

While boating, Bortuzzo decided to help himself to a snack of assorted meats and cheeses.

The PHT Stanley Cup tracker

 Week 1: Cup heads to the Canadian prairies
• Week 2: Stanley Cup heads east to Ontario

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flames still face cap challenges after Lucic-Neal trade

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The Calgary Flames faced a cap crunch with James Neal on the books, and they still face potential issues with Milan Lucic being traded in at $500K cheaper.

[More on the contract situations here, and Lucic vs. Neal on ice in this post.]

That’s a lot of money under most circumstances, but $500K goes fast in the modern NHL. In fact, $500K wouldn’t cover the minimum salary of a single player. Every dollar could end up counting for the Flames, so it’s nothing to sneeze at, but things could be tight nonetheless. It may even force someone other than Neal out of the fold.

While the Flames currently boast an estimated $9.973 million in cap space, according to Cap Friendly, that money will dry up quickly. They still need to hammer out deals for RFAs Matthew Tkachuk, David Rittich, Sam Bennett, and Andrew Mangiapane.

Really, would it shock you if Tkachuk and Rittich came in at $10M combined? Such costs are real considerations for the Flames, assuming they can’t convince Tkachuk to take a Kevin Labanc-ian discount.

In Ryan Pike’s breakdown of the cap situation for Flames Nation, he found that Calgary may still have trouble fitting everyone under the cap by his estimations, even if the Flames bought out overpriced defenseman Michael Stone. Buying out Stone seems like a good starting point as we consider some of the calls Treliving might need to make before the Flames’ roster is solidified.

Buying out Stone in August: Stone, 29, has one year left on a deal that carries a $3.5M cap hit and matching salary. If the Flames bought him out, they’d save $2.33M in 2019-20, as Stone’s buyout would register a cap hit of about $1.167M in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

As frustrating as it would be for the Flames to combine dead money in a Stone buyout with Troy Brouwer‘s buyout (remaining $1.5M for the next three seasons), it might just be necessary. Really, it might be the easiest decision of all.

Granted, maybe someone like the Senators would take on Stone’s contract if the Flames bribed them with picks and/or prospects, much like the Hurricanes did in taking Patrick Marleau off of the Maple Leafs’ hands?

Either way, there’s a chance Stone won’t be making $3.5M with the Flames next season.

Trade Sam Bennett’s rights? With things getting really snug, and the forward unlikely to justify being the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, maybe the Flames would be better off moving on by sending Bennett/his RFA rights to another team and filling that roster spot with a cheaper option?

If a team coughed up a decent pick and/or prospect for Bennett, assuming he needs a change of scenery, it could be a win for everyone. The Flames might not be comfortable about that yet with Bennett being 23, but it should at least be discussed.

Trade an expiring contract player? T.J. Brodie ($4.65M), Michael Frolik ($4.3M), and Travis Hamonic ($3.857M) all seem to be signed at reasonable prices, if not mild bargains. All three are only covered through 2019-20, however, making it reasonable to picture them as parts of various trade scenarios. In fact, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the Flames were working on a potential deal involving Brodie and then-Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri, and Kadri admitted on “31 Thoughts” that he didn’t waive his clause to allow Calgary to trade for him.

***

Over the years, including this summer with LaBanc and Timo Meier signing sweet deals for the Sharks, sometimes RFAs take care off cap concerns for their teams. There are scenarios where such constraints actually help the given team land some discounts; it sure felt that way when the Bruins got a deal with Torey Krug back in 2016.

As of this writing, it seems like the Flames might face a tight squeeze in fitting under the cap.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

How Flames, Oilers might handle Lucic, Neal after big trade

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In the additional breakdown of the Milan LucicJames Neal trade, you might conclude that it’s basically a one-for-one deal, conditional draft pick aside. You can get an idea of how the two players are in remarkably similar places in their careers by reading the original breakdown.

Even their contracts look virtually the same … at least at first.

The players are close enough that it’s far from a guarantee that the Oilers will need to hand that third-rounder to their rivals in Calgary.

It’s only once you start digging deeper that you realize that, beyond James Neal being closer to his best days than Lucic, his contract is also a lot easier to deal with, for the most part. Once you start considering those factors, you might once again be surprised that the Oilers convinced the Flames to accept Lucic’s contract.

This was a case of two teams trading problems, and while both players have a decent chance to rebound to at least some extent, the true winner of this trade might be the team that can continue to clean up their messes.

To sort through the especially messy Lucic contract, you have to pull back your sleeves and get in the weeds. So, fair warning: this might make your brain melt a bit, but if you’re interested in what might happen next, these factors are important.

No movement, indeed

Lucic’s contract is an albatross deal for reasons that extend beyond Lucic not being worth $6M (and still not worth $5.25M) per year.

For one thing, while Lucic waived his no-movement clause to make this trade happen, it sounds like Lucic will retain his NMC … for some reason.

Frankly, if this is a matter of the Flames simply being nice, then they may rue such kindness in the future.

Most directly, if Lucic’s NMC is restored, then he might kabosh a trade down the line. Beyond that, there’s a scenario where the Flames might have to protect Lucic in an expansion draft, rather than someone more valuable. It’s possible that Lucic will return the Flames’ gesture by waiving his NMC in that situation (kind of like Marc-Andre Fleury doing the Penguins a solid in the Vegas expansion draft), yet the threat of complications can make you queasy.

Even if it works out, it all seems pretty messy to me. The other potential escape routes are messy for Calgary, too.

Easier to sell the deal than to buy it out

It’s been mentioned that the bonus-heavy structure of Lucic’s contract makes his deal almost “buyout proof.”

That’s pretty much true, as buying out Lucic would bring out marginal savings for the Flames, even if you move the buyout to a later year than the most immediate chance after next season.

Realistically, the most reasonable way Calgary might wiggle out of some of the tougher years of Lucic’s contract would be to find a team like the Senators: a franchise in place where they value contracts that don’t cost as much as their cap hits indicate. For example: the Flames could pay Lucic’s $3M bonus before 2020-21, then trade him to Ottawa, who would be credited with his $5.25M cap hit, even though they’d only be on the hook for the remaining $1M in base salary. That scenario would be even more appealing to a cost-conscious team in the last year of Lucic’s contract, so check Cap Friendly if you’re curious about other possibilities.

Unfortunately for Calgary, even if they found a buyer, they’d seemingly need to get Lucic to play ball. The veteran winger might not be so thrilled to go to a rebuilding team.

Ultimately, the Flames are taking a significant gamble that this Lucic situation will work out better than sticking with Neal. If not, people will point to Treliving taking on Lucic much like, well, Peter Chiarelli also gambling on the big winger.

*gulp*

Neal’s cleaner situation

Puck Pedia notes some potential twists and turns, but overall, the Oilers didn’t just get a player in closer proximity to his best times of production; Neal’s contract is, mostly, a lot easier to deal with. Even if it’s bad, too.

As you can see from Cap Friendly’s buyout calculator, a cap-strapped Oilers team could benefit from a buyout, including one as early as 2020:

Saving close to $4M for three seasons, even if it means tacking on almost $2M for the following two seasons, could easily make a lot of sense for the Oilers, if they determine that a Neal buyout is the right move.

In general, they have more control of the situation, as Neal’s contract lacks a no-movement or no-trade clause. That’s kind of tragic in a way, as Neal’s already bounced around the league like a pinball, but it’s nonetheless the case.

Granted, the one area where Lucic might be a more plausible trade clip is because there’s not really any smoke and mirrors with Neal’s contract. While Lucic’s bonus-soaked contract makes him difficult to buyout, his falling salary vs. cap hit appeals to certain rebuild scenarios. Neal, meanwhile, simply costs $5.75M each season.

Still, that lack of a no-movement clause reduces Edmonton’s odds of worst-case scenarios. For instance: the Oilers wouldn’t need to protect Neal in an expansion draft, which could open up moments of tragic comedy where Neal finds himself with a new team and an expansion franchise again.

Overall, a buyout seems most feasible, although there’s the outside chance that Neal rebounds to become a deadly sniper again alongside Connor McDavid and/or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

***

Every trade carries the tagline of “to be continued,” but this swap seems especially friendly to that caveat. Is the plan for the Flames, Oilers, or both of these teams to ultimately get rid of Neal and/or Lucic all along? If so, at what cost?

Maybe the play of Neal and Lucic will decide the “winner” of this trade, but most likely, it comes down to which team does the best job cleaning up the messes they’ve made.

Check out the original post for more on this trade, including a look at where Neal and Lucic are in their careers.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Trade: Flames get Lucic; Oilers receive Neal

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Call it a “change of scenery,” or probably most directly, trading problems. Either way, Alberta rivals the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers made a truly resounding trade on Friday, with the main takeaway being that Milan Lucic goes to the Flames, while James Neal is bound for Edmonton.

Yeah, wow.

Multiple reporters indicate that it’s close to one-for-one, although there are a few minor tweaks to consider.

The Calgary Herald’s Kristen Anderson reports that the Oilers are retaining 12.5 percent of Milan Lucic’s salary, which translates to $750K, while Edmonton is also sending Calgary a conditional third-round pick in 2020. It’s not clear yet what those conditions are.

If Anderson and others are correct, that means the trade boils down to:

Flames receive: Lucic, 31, minus $750K per year. That puts Lucic at $5.25M, with his contract running through 2022-23. Calgary also receives Edmonton’s 2020 third-round pick, if conditions are met.

Oilers receive: Neal, 31, who has a $5.75M cap hit that runs through 2022-23.

As you can see, the two players remain very similar in both cap hit, term, and even age. The Flames save $500K in cap space, while the Oilers add $500K, as Puck Pedia confirms.

Of course, when you’re talking about contracts teams largely want to get away from, it’s often about more than just cap hits. There are some significant ins and outs to that side of the discussion, including Lucic’s deal being essentially “buyout proof.” Neal, meanwhile, would be easier for the Oilers to buy out, if they decide to do that after an audition with the team.

On Saturday, PHT will try to wade through the variety of paths the two teams could take, whether it means sticking with Lucic and Neal respectively, or going for a buyout or trade. For now, let’s consider where they are in their careers.

Lucic’s tough times

After a productive first season in Edmonton where Lucic scored 23 goals and 50 points in 2016-17, Lucic plummeted down the depth chart and in production. This past season was rock bottom, as Lucic scored just six goals and 20 points in 79 games.

The bet on Lucic, some might say in part leading to the dreadful Taylor Hall trade, stands as one of the landmark gaffes of Peter Chiarelli’s Era of Error in Edmonton. It was clear that both the player and team needed to part ways, so now there’s at least peace in that regard.

A bumpy path for Neal, and brutal times in Calgary

Whether you like Neal – a player who absolutely goes over the line at times, when he loses his cool – or not, it’s tough not to feel for him after the last several years.

He was traded from the Stars to the Penguins in 2011, scapegoated a bit out of Pittsburgh on his way to Nashville in 2014, then scooped up by Vegas in the 2017 expansion draft, only to sign with the Flames (possibly in a relatively lukewarm free agent market) last summer. Now this trade sends Neal to Edmonton, making this the 31-year-old’s sixth NHL team, and his fourth in his past four seasons. Players as productive as Neal – aside from last season’s meltdown – rarely become journeymen like this.

Honestly, should we just get his nameplate ready for the Seattle [Unfortunately Not Supersonics] right now?

Despite that upheaval, Neal had been a guy who could score goals nonetheless. He peaked with 40 during his best days with Malkin in Pittsburgh (an 81-point output in 2011-12), but he sniped in multiple climates, generating 20+ goals in 10 consecutive seasons.

And then this Calgary season happened.

Neal never clicked with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, as Elias Lindholm instead took that plum gig. Neal slipped lower and lower in the lineup, sometimes becoming a healthy scratch, and ended 2018-19 with Lucic-like numbers (though in fewer games), as Neal managed only seven goals and 19 points. He was also an all-around disaster, as you can see from RAPM charts via Evolving Hockey that argue that, in some ways, Lucic was actually better last season, as Lucic at least wasn’t as much of a defensive disaster as Neal. Faint praise, but still:

Better times ahead, maybe?

Again, it’s easy to forget that both wingers are 31.

That’s not a great age to be when your contract looks inflated, but there’s also a chance that maybe both could turn things around, at least to some degree. With Neal closer to more productive seasons than Lucic, he’d seem to be a more likely candidate, especially if his rifle of a shot pairs nicely with Connor McDavid‘s all-world playmaking.

But both players have a shot at positive regression. Neal’s five percent shooting percentage from 2018-19 marked the only time in his career that he’s been below 10.4 percent, while Lucic shot at 6.8 in 2017-18 and 8.1 in 2018-19, compared to his career average of 13.5 percent.

Modest rebounds wouldn’t guarantee that either Neal or Lucic sticks around in their new climates. Improvements might just make each forward easier to trade, and more palatable to keep around while looking for trades. There’s simply a lot of room for “to be continued” elements to this move, from buyouts to trades and more.

***

As discussed above, there could still be twists and turns in these sagas, and some of those possibilities will be examined on Saturday. Yet, at this moment in time, this seems like the rare trade win for the Oilers. Maybe this is the start of a positive pattern now that Ken Holland is GM?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.