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NHL Awards 2019: PHT hands out hardware at the All-Star break


It’s the NHL All-Star break, so it’s probably a good time to reflect back on the first three-and-a-half months of the season and take a sneak peek at who’s in the awards conversation. There’s been plenty of surprises, disappointments, coaching changes, general manager changes and we still have lots more hockey left to play.

As we get set for the All-Star Skills and All-Star Game, let’s take a look at who we think is deserving of the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Adams, Calder and Selke Trophies, along with some first-half surprises and disappointments.

Biggest surprise (player)
SEAN: Robin Lehner
JAMES: Robin Lehner
ADAM: Elias Lindholm
JOEY: Elias Lindholm
SCOTT: Robin Lehner

Biggest surprise (team)
SEAN: Islanders
JAMES: Islanders
ADAM: Islanders
JOEY: Islanders
SCOTT: Islanders

Biggest disappointment (player):
SEAN: Ilya Kovalchuk
JAMES: Ilya Kovalchuk
ADAM: Ilya Kovalchuk
JOEY: Sergei Bobrovsky
SCOTT: James Neal

Biggest disappointment (team)
SEAN: Panthers
JAMES: Flyers
ADAM: Flyers
JOEY: Kings
SCOTT: Blues


SEAN: Even among a team of stars and budding stars (Brayden Point), Kucherov has set himself apart from the pack. The current scoring leader is ahead in a race that could change drastically in the second half. If the Oilers somehow find a way to make the playoffs, does that help McDavid’s chances? What about Gibson if the Ducks manage a turnaround?

JAMES: With scoring growing like Super Mario post-mushroom, there’s a positively dizzying number of great options this year. When in doubt – and I’m very much in doubt – I ask myself the schoolyard sports question of “If I were picking teams, which player would be my first choice?” and McDavid comes up without a thought. He’s the best player in the world, and he’s producing at that level even as the Oilers let him down at every turn. Kucherov’s ridiculous in his own right, and Gibson is the clear No. 1 at the most game-changing position in the sport, so he deserves kudos in his own right.

ADAM: Kucherov has been the best offensive player in the league on the best offensive team, and Gaudreau is just behind him for a Calgary team that is the best team in the Western Conference. Both are among the games best and most exciting players and are as dominant as it gets. As for Gibson, well, it goes without saying: He is taking what should be a lottery team, maybe a bottom-five team, and keeping it in the playoff race.

JOEY: I realize that the Lightning are loaded with talent, but it’s important to note that Kucherov has five more points than any other player in the league right now. He led the league in scoring for a good chunk of last season, before he slowed down a little bit in the second of the year. We’ll see if he can keep this up. As for Gaudreau, no one expected the Flames to be this good this year and he’s a big reason why they’ve been able to exceed expectations. And what more can I say about Ovechkin? After winning the Stanley Cup last June, the Caps captain has managed to score 36 goals in just 40 games. That’s insane.

SCOTT: Would the Flames be where the Flames are if Gaudreau wasn’t playing there? I think not. Gaudreau isn’t far off Kucherov’s point pace and he’s not playing with Steven Stamkos or Brayden Point. Gaudreau has turned into a superstar this season and has done the most for his team. Wheeler, meanwhile, has been the gas that fuels Winnipeg’s power play, and he’s just behind the top spot in terms of assists.

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SEAN: If he hadn’t been injured in the past, Giordano may have one, maybe two Norris Trophies in his cabinet. He’s having his best offensive season at age 35 with 52 points in 49 games. His career high is 56 set back in 2015-16. He’s again a strong driver of possession and has posted a strong relative Corsi (5.23). With the play of Karlsson, Rielly and Brent Burns, the final voting come April could leave for a handful of worthy candidates.

JAMES: All three of these players just jump off the charts, along with a few other worthy defensemen (including John Carlson, whose defensive game is catching up to his prolific offense in exciting ways this season). Giordano somehow has more than a point-per-game in 2018-19 (52 points in 49 games heading into Wednesday), and remains an elite two-way presence. Letang’s somewhat quietly having an absolutely stellar year in his own right, and even a “slow start” for Karlsson keeps him in the discussion as a defensive demigod.

ADAM: These three have been pretty much in a class all to themselves this season. They are all elite scorers, they are all elite possession drivers, they are all elite when it comes to scoring chances for and against. The big omission here is probably Rielly, and he would probably be a very close fourth for me. Just think these three have been far and away the best all-around defenders in the league this season. I thought Karlsson’s early season struggles were a bit overblown because the underlying numbers were always there. Just took some time to get the points to go with it. Letang has had an amazing bounce back year and is back to being elite, and Giordano has just been sensational.

JOEY: Giordano is putting together a career-year at 35 years old. The Flames defender has 52 points in 49 games and he’s managed to put up a CF% of 55.66 percent, which is remarkable. Burns leads all defensemen in points, with 55, and he’s also a strong CF % of over 55 percent. Letang has had to overcome a lengthy injury history, but he’s put together quite the season for the Penguins. Hopefully he can continue to stay healthy.

SCOTT: Giordano is the other piece in the Flames’ puzzle that has been fantastic this season. Gaudreau is taking care of everything up front and Giordano, with his point-per-game pace, is getting business done on the blue line. Burns belongs here because the Norris often goes to the guy with the most points. Chabot belongs here because he’s making the most of playing on a bad team.


SEAN: Fourth in high-danger save percentage (.871), a .925 even strength save percentage, tops in goals saved above average (14.27) (a stat that shows many goals have been saved above a league-average netminder), and only one of two goaltenders who have faced at least 1,000 shots at 5-on-5. Imagine the Ducks without Gibson’s level of performance this season.

JAMES: Again, Gibson is incredible, and carrying the sort of workload that makes you worry that he might break down in the future. Lehner is the only goalie who matches Gibson’s outstanding 18 Goals Saved Against Average, and his case could get interesting as time goes on, especially if he works on his one relatively weak area (only 27 games played compared to Gibson’s 42), and Lehner has a ridiculous .931 save percentage. Andersen’s numbers are strong, and considering how often Toronto collapses defensively, he’s been an immensely valuable presence for Toronto. Could be some fascinating jockeying for finalist positions down the stretch.

ADAM: If you are a goalie that gets MVP consideration you are also probably in the Vezina discussion, or at the very top of it. This should be Gibson’s to lose at this point because he has clearly been the best goalie in the league this season. Andersen is the rare Toronto Maple Leafs player that is actually underrated. He plays a ton of minutes, has been mostly durable, and does it all at an above average level. There is a lot to be said for that. As for Lehner, well, he is one of the driving forces behind the Islanders climbing to first place.

JOEY: It’s a little strange to give my top Vezina vote to a goalie that lost 10 consecutive starts not too long ago, but Gibson has really been that good. He’s the only reason the Ducks are anywhere close to a playoff spot at this point. If they want to play deeper into April, they’ll need him to continue playing at a high level. Both Andersen and Vasilevskiy have missed some time with an injury, but they’ve been so consistent for most of the season.

SCOTT: Gibson, because the Ducks would be the worst team in the NHL without him. He’s just been spectacular despite very little run support. Fleury, meanwhile, is defying the laws of age as he puts up another ridiculous season. He leads the league in shutouts and is leading Vegas back to the promised land. Lehner could pip both of them if he continues as the hot hand in Long Island. He’s a huge reason why the Islanders are in first place in the Metropolitan.


SEAN: You knew there’d be some improvement with Trotz behind the bench, but this? Not a chance. The Metro leaders are better in all facets of the game this season.

JAMES: As much as I want to make a trendy/contrarian coaching pick, and as much of a red flag as the Isles’ goaltending is, how can we deny the work Trotz has done this year? It’s almost like the dude just won a Stanley Cup or something. Cooper’s team is loaded, but the Bolts are so far ahead of everyone else, it’s ridiculous, and that’s even with Andrei Vasilevskiy missing some time. It’s not just that the Canadiens are overachieving; the Habs are somehow a dominant possession team, and Julien has this group playing a relentless style that makes Montreal a headache many nights. You’d think Montreal’s only hope would be Carey Price wearing an S on his chest, but that S has really just stood for “solid” this season.

ADAM: I am probably the only person in hockey that does not have Trotz first, but I am taking a stand here. The Jack Adams is kind of a joke to me anymore because it never actually goes to the best coach or the best coaching job. It just gets given to the coach whose bad team from a year ago had the best goalie this season and surprisingly dragged them to a playoff spot. Now, that does not mean I am discounting the Trotz impact. He has been great and he is a great coach. He just is. He has been. He still is. He will continue to be. But here’s the thing: I think Peters has done a better job this season. Does he have more talent on his roster? Perhaps. But he is also coaching a team that was out of the playoffs last year and he has them playing at a level that is good enough to potentially compete for the Stanley Cup this season … with shaky goaltending. Are the Islanders, with great goaltending, at that level? Still not sure yet. But Peters and Trotz are the two top of this and Peters probably is not getting enough attention. Cooper just simply might be the best coach in hockey and will get punished in the voting because his team is *too* good.

JOEY: I realize that I’m not giving Cooper any love, but the three coaches I listed above have done a remarkable job in 2018-19. Nobody expected the Islanders to be leading the Metropolitan Division by three points heading into the All-Star break. Nobody. Trotz and his staff have done a great job getting their team organized defensively. As of right now, there’s a huge gap between him and the rest of the coaches on the ballot.

SCOTT: Trotz has revitalized the Islanders in a year where most would have guessed they would have struggled. Instead, the Islanders have quickly forgotten about John Tavares and worked themselves into the first spot in the Metro. That’s remarkable. Peters has turned the Flames into what appears to be a Cup contender, as well. Cooper gets here by default. The Lightning are a very good team.


SEAN: A winger? Yep. Stone is starting more in the defensive zone (51.8 percent) than he has in the last five years and even on a mediocre Senators team he’s putting up positive possession numbers (52.4 percent Corsi) while also recording a 12.7 Corsi-Relative, meaning Ottawa is directing nearly 13 more shots on goal when he’s on the ice compared to when he’s off.

JAMESSidney Crosby‘s possession numbers are so bonkers, it was really tempting to give him more Hart Trophy love. Seriously, scroll down to his possession metrics and note the ridiculous Corsi Relative number of 10.3%. That’s get-your-glasses-fixed stuff. The Selke voting leans toward two-way prowess rather than pure defense (sorry Mikko Koivu), and Crosby’s tilting the ice on an epic level. Barkov and Stone are splendid choices if 87 is too bold for your blood.

ADAMTatar is not going to win the Selke for a variety of reasons. First, he is a winger and wingers never win unless they are Jere Lehtinen. Also I am not sure anyone realizes just how good he has been. Among forwards that have played at least 600 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season Tatar is first in Corsi Percentage, third in scoring chance differential, 14th in high-danger scoring chance differential, and seventh in goal differential. He has been an all-around outstanding player this season. Crosby is still an elite offensive player and I think his defensive game has caught up to it. His line is doing everything for the Penguins at the moment. As for Marchand, I still think he is one of the best all-around players in the league and has been great this season. 

JOEY: This is very much a reputation award, but it’s tough to ignore the job Bergeron has done this season. Despite missing 15 games this season, the Bruins forward is on pace to score 83 points. Bergeron has controlled 56 percent of the shot attempts when he’s on the ice. Even at 33 years old, he’s still got it. It’s important to note that Crosby has also put up similar possession numbers this year. Both players could easily come away with the award this season.

SCOTT: Crosby is silly good again this season, which means he might finally win this award. He’s putting up his second-best season in terms of possession and his best season in terms of his relative Corsi at 10.64. That’s very good. Possession metrics and relative Corsi is also the reason why Tatar is on here. He’s having a splendid season in Montreal and deserves some recognition. Stone is just being Stone again. Even on a bad team, he continues to put up a point-per-game while suppressing offense from opponents.

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SEAN: A couple of injuries haven’t slowed the Canucks’ rookie. His 1.13 points per game average crushes the competition, with Brady Tkachuk (0.61) trailing far behind.

JAMES: Oh, no big deal, Pettersson’s just restored hope for the Vancouver Canucks. Heiskanen and Dahlin are neck-and-neck in a battle of beyond-their-years defensemen, with Heiskanen’s logging more than 23 minutes per game and Dahlin carrying a significant workload (almost 21) and having more all-around success. Somehow, both Heiskanen and Dahlin are still teens. You can feel old now.

ADAM: Simply put, it is Pettterson’s award. Heiskanen and Dahlin have been outstanding as teenage defenders, but Pettersson changes the entire outlook of the Canucks when he is on the ice.

JOEY: Pettersson is clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest of this rookie class. Despite missing 11 games due to injury, the Canucks rookie still leads the league in rookie scoring by an 18-point margin over Ottawa’s Colin White. The 20-year-old is a huge reason why Vancouver finds themselves in the middle of a playoff race, when most people expected them to be one of the worst teams in the league. This one’s easy.

SCOTT: Out of all of the awards, this is the one that is already sewn up. It doesn’t matter who second or third is, although Heiskanen and Dahlin are having solid seasons in their own right. But it’s Pettersson, who despite missing time on two separate occasions this season because of injury, has lit the NHL on fire in his first season.

(All numbers via Natural Stat Trick)

Why Rangers should consider trading Chris Kreider right now

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The New York Rangers have undergone one of the most significant transformations in the league this offseason with the additions of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, and the good fortune that saw them move to No. 2 in the draft lottery where they selected Kaapo Kakko.

It has drastically changed the look of the team on the ice, both for the long-term and the short-term, and also significantly altered their salary cap structure.

With the new contracts for Panarin and Trouba adding $19.6 million to their salary cap number (for the next seven years) it currently has the Rangers over the cap for this season while still needing to re-sign three restricted free agents, including Pavel Buchnevich who is coming off of a 21-goal performance in only 64 games.

Obviously somebody is going to have to go at some point over the next year, and it remains entirely possible that “somebody” could be veteran forward Chris Kreider given his contract situation and the team’s new salary cap outlook.

Perhaps even as soon as this summer by way of a trade.

What makes it so complicated for Kreider and the Rangers is that he will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and will be in line for a significant pay raise from his current $4.6 million salary cap number.

It is a tough situation for general manager Jeff Gorton and new team president John Davidson to tackle.

If you are looking at things in a more short-term window there is at least a decent argument for trying to keep Kreider this season, and perhaps even beyond. For one, he is still a really good player. He scored 28 goals this past season, still brings a ton of speed to the lineup, and is still an important part of the roster.

Even though the Rangers missed the playoffs by a significant margin this past season (20 points back) they are not that far away from being able to return to the postseason. Maybe even as early as this season if everything goes absolutely perfect. They added a top-10 offensive player in the league (Panarin), a top-pairing defender (Trouba), another promising young defender with potential (Fox), a potential superstar (Kakko), and still have a goalie (Henrik Lundqvist) that can change a season if he is on top of his game. It is not a given, and not even likely, but the window is at least starting to open.

Even if they do not make it this season they are not so far away that Kreider could not still be a potentially productive member of that next playoff team.

The salary cap situation will be complicated, but the Rangers can easily trim elsewhere in a variety of ways, whether it be utilizing the second buyout window or trading another, less significant part of the roster. As we just saw this past week, there is no contract in the NHL that is completely unmovable.

They COULD do it.

But just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should, and that is the big issue the Rangers have to face with one of their most important players.

Should they keep him and try to sign him to a new long-term contract?

For as good as Kreider still is, and for as much as the Rangers have improved this summer, they still have to think about the big-picture outlook.

That means separating what a player has done for you from what that player will do for you in the future. For a team like the Rangers that is still building for something beyond this season, the latter part is the only thing that matters.

The reality of Kreider’s situation is that he is going to be 29 years old when his next contract begins, will be making significantly more than his current salary, and is almost certainly going to be on the threshold of a significant decline in his production (assuming it has not already started).

Let’s try to look at this as objectively as possible.

Kreider just completed his age 27 season, has played 470 games in the NHL, and averaged 0.29 goals per game and 0.59 points per game for his career.

There were 12 forwards in the NHL this past season that had similar numbers through the same point in their careers (at least 400 games played, at least 0.25 goals per game, and between 0.50 and 0.60 points per game). That list included Adam Henrique, Ryan Callahan, Wayne Simmonds, Ryan Kesler, Dustin Brown, Drew Stafford, Andrew Ladd, Tomas Tatar, Jordan Staal, David Perron, Lee Stempniak, and Kyle Turris.

This is not a perfect apples to apples comparison here because a lot of the players in that group play different styles and have different skillsets. They will not all age the exact same way or see their talents deteriorate in the same way. But what should concern the Rangers is that almost every one of the players on that list that is currently over the age of 30 has seen their production fall off a cliff. Some of them now carry contracts that look regrettable for their respective teams.

It is pretty much a given that as a player gets closer to 30 and plays beyond that their production is going to decline. Teams can get away with paying elite players into their 30s because even if they decline their production is still probably going to be better than a significant part of the league. Maybe Panarin isn’t an 80-point player at age 30 or 31, but it is a good bet he is still a 65-or 70-point player and a legitimate top-line winger.

Players like Kreider that aren’t starting at that level don’t have as much wiggle room, and when they decline from their current level they start to lose some (or even a lot) of their value.

Given the Rangers’ salary cap outlook, that is probably a risk they can not afford to take with Kreider long-term because it is far more likely that a new contract becomes an albatross on their cap than a good value.

You also have to consider that the Rangers have long-term options at wing that will quickly push Kreider down the depth chart.

Panarin is one of the best wingers in the league. Over the past two years they used top-10 picks in potential impact wingers (Kaako this year and Vitali Kravtsov a year ago). Buchnevich just turned 24 and has already shown 20-goal potential in the NHL.

As Adam Herman at Blueshirt Banter argued immediately after the signing of Panarin, committing more than $6 million per year to a winger that, in the very near future, may only be the fourth or fifth best winger on the team is a very questionable (at best) move in a salary cap league and gives them almost zero margin for error elsewhere on the roster.

Right now Kreider still has a lot of value to the Rangers for this season. He is probably making less than his market value, is still one of their best players, and still makes them better right now.

But when you look at the situation beyond this season his greatest value to them probably comes in the form of a trade chip because it not only means they can acquire an asset (or two) whose career better aligns with their next best chance to compete for a championship, but it also means they do not have to pay a soon-to-be declining, non-elite player a long-term contract into their 30s, a situation that almost never works out favorably for the team.

The Rangers have had to trade some key players and make some tough decisions during this rebuild.

They should be strongly considering making the same decision with Kreider.

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

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 “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 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 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.


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 or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.