Sean Monahan

James Neal’s big night brings up unthinkable: Did Oilers win a trade?

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When the Edmonton Oilers landed James Neal in a fascinating, unlikely trade with the Calgary Flames involving Milan Lucic, many thought that Neal’s (once?)-deadly shot could be revived by Connor McDavid, a superstar who happens to make almost everyone look good.

(Except, erp, maybe Lucic?)

Even the most optimistic of Oilers fans and Neal stans probably didn’t see this coming, though.

Neal put on a show against the New York Islanders on Tuesday, scoring four goals, including a natural hat trick from late in the first period to early in the second. This gives Neal an impressive six goals in his first three games as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, with all of those tallies happening in the past two games.

No doubt about it, McDavid is making life easier for Neal, who couldn’t quite beat out Elias Lindholm for a spot with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan last season, eventually losing a spot altogether at times for the Flames.

You can’t totally dismiss Neal’s part of the sniping equation, though. The 32-year-old’s first of four goals on Tuesday was unassisted, and Neal’s fourth goal was assisted by Tomas Jurco and Oscar Klefbom. Ultimately, McDavid and Neal helped the Oilers earn a decisive 5-2 win against the Islanders.

Check out Neal’s four-goal outburst in the video above this post’s headline.

To give you some quick perspective: Neal only scored seven goals and 19 points during all of his disastrous 63-game regular season with Calgary in 2018-19. To add even more perspective, Lucic, 31, only managed six goals in 79 contests during his final year with Edmonton in 2018-19.

Plenty of people felt a little restless regarding Ken Holland’s first offseason as a GM, particularly since the former Red Wings executive seems to be getting paid big bucks. The Neal – Lucic trade could be something Holland could hang his hat on, especially with Neal’s hot start.

So far, the story for Lucic’s start with the Flames hasn’t been very pretty.

While Lucic could break through on Tuesday (Calgary is facing Los Angeles on Tuesday), he went through his first two Flames games without a goal or an assist. He’s instead been racking up trips to the penalty box, generating 21 PIM through those first two games, including a moment where he, uh, “stuck up for his teammate” by punching Nikita Zadorov.

Through those two games, Lucic logged 13:46 and 8:38 time on ice, which was not much more than what Neal logged in his second game with Edmonton alone (19:28).

One would think that Neal might empathize with Lucic a bit there. While the Oilers are, on paper, a pitiful team on the wings — a big reason why people believed that the big forward would get plenty of reps on McDavid’s line – the Flames have superior options, which means Lucic will need to battle for meaningful minutes. So far, it doesn’t seem like Lucic is having much better luck than Neal did last year.

Of course, it’s early.

That time-related point is key, actually, because there’s one way we might look at this more positively for Calgary over the long haul. As you can see from Cap Friendly, Lucic’s salary goes below his $6M cap hit starting in 2019-20, and is quite low after salary bonuses get paid out. Maybe that would open the door for the Flames to get rid of that cap hit over the next few years, which could be crucial in adding the extra oomph that perhaps Lucic won’t provide?

It’s a thought … but even then, it’s a bit of a stretch, especially since Lucic has certain clauses that allow him to decide his future.

In the present, this is looking like a big win so far for the Oilers, even if Neal is almost certain to cool off. Considering the rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary, chances are, Flames fans are going to hear about this disparity. Like, a lot.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Tkachuk bridge deal gives Flames three-year window

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The Calgary Flames likely breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday when they signed Matthew Tkachuk to a three-year deal with a $7 million AAV.

Once you get past the inevitable envy of the Lightning signing Brayden Point for even less, this is a nice deal for Tkachuk and the Flames.

Granted, it does make things pretty snug for the Flames, as they may even need to go with 22 instead of 23 roster spots covered, unless GM Brad Treliving does some juggling:

Frankly, the most interesting questions come from the longer term than the short. To be specific, it looks like the Flames’ clearest window to compete for a Stanley Cup happens over the three seasons of Tkachuk’s bridge deal, from 2019-20 through 2021-22.

Three crucial contracts are set to expire after 2021-22.

  • Tkachuk, 21, will see that $7M “bridge” deal end.

It will be intriguing to see how that plays out. Following the lead of other key RFAs, Tkachuk’s deal is structured in a way that he could accept an expensive (possibly approximately $9M) qualifying offer to play out 2022-23 before he’d be eligible to become a UFA.

Naturally, that doesn’t guarantee it would happen that way, as the Flames can sign him to an extension as early as the summer of 2021. Tkachuk’s leverage is considerable thanks to this deal, however, and Calgary must brace for an expensive haul thanks to another huge name looming …

  • Johnny Gaudreau, 26, sees his bargain $6.75M expire after 2021-22 as well.

Gaudreau was a bargain at that rate when he signed, and has only cemented his status as a hyper-bargain as he continues his ascent among the most prolific playmakers in the sport. To put things mildly, Gaudreau will expect (and, frankly, deserve) a big raise starting in 2022-23.

  • Mark Giordano, 35, will see his Gaudreau-matching $6.75M cap hit end.

Giordano’s aged miraculously, winning his first Norris Trophy last season. We’ve seen some great defensemen enter their twilight years remaining at a high level, so there’s a decent chance that the Flames won’t regret Giordano’s remaining years.

That said, sometimes the aging curve hits hard and fast, and Giordano’s contract expiring could be a blessing by the end of 2021-22. Would it be enough to spread that $6.75M between Tkachuk and Gaudreau and call it a day? Maybe not, but the pieces might just fall together for that to absorb most of the damage.

Even more term

Naturally, there are questions beyond the big three, although Calgary’s done well to avoid many albatross deals.

Sean Monahan (24, $6.375M) only has one more year on his contract than the big three (ending after 2022-23), while Mikael Backlund (30, $5.35M), Elias Lindholm (24, $4.85M), and Noah Hanifin (22, $4.95M) see their deals expire after 2023-24.

They did exchange the James Neal albatross for Milan Lucic (31, $5.25M [after salary retention] through 2022-23) during this offseason, though.

It will be interesting to see if Treliving might have an escape route in mind with Lucic.

Via Cap Friendly, the 2019-20 season is the last year where his actual salary (in the latest case, $6M) exceeds his $5.25M cap hit. From 2020-21 and on, Lucic’s cost reads out as:

2020-21: $3M in bonuses, $1M in base salary
2021-22: $2.5M bonus, $2.5M base
2022-23: $3M bonus, $1M base

A budget-challenged team could look at Lucic’s cap hit/salary disparity as an asset, especially if Calgary coughed up some futures for some cap bribery. Such a deal could be especially sensible for a cheaper team after the Flames paid Lucic’s bonuses heading into 2020-21 or 2022-23. Lucic has clauses, so it wouldn’t be a guaranteed smooth process, but that Neal trade is more complex if you factor in the Flames possibly wiggling out of Lucic’s cap hit in the future.

Goalie, young player, and core questions

Other matters will need to be settled. They don’t have much certainty in net with Cam Talbot seeming to be a stopgap and David Rittich to be determined as a starter or even a platoon option, but the good news is that they’re not boxed into a bad and/or expensive option, either. Beyond Giordano and Hanifin, the Flames’ other most prominent defensemen are entering contract years.

***

Ultimately, you can add Tkachuk’s bridge deal to a nice list of Flames’ discounts. Yet, like their best bargain with Gaudreau, it will only last so long. The Flames need to make it count.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Treliving needs to continue pushing right buttons for Flames

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

Since taking over as general manager of the Flames in 2014, Brad Treliving has done a reasonably good job. His team hasn’t made the playoffs every year under his watch, but he managed to build a team that won the Pacific Division and the Western Conference last year.

Unfortunately for Calgary, they flamed out (sorry!) of the playoffs in the first round last spring. Now, the challenge for Treliving is to find a way for him to get even more out of his roster. Given the team’s cap situation, it was difficult for him to go out and really make this team better on paper. For the most part, the core you saw last year is the core they’ll roll with in 2019-20.

Unlike last year, everybody will see the Flames coming this time around. Again, they were the class of the Western Conference during the regular season, so the rest of the league knows what they’re capable of. It’s not like we didn’t know Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and Mark Giordano were great players, but this was a team that missed the postseason by 11 points in 2018. They exceeded the pre-season expectations.

[MORE: 2018-19 review | 3 Questions |Talbot the X-Factor]

Now, it’s up to Treliving to continue pressing all the right buttons in order for this team to progress to the next level. He added Milan Lucic and Cam Talbot to the roster, but his work isn’t over just yet. In order for the Flames to be the class of the West, he’ll have to make sure he gets Tkachuk under contract. The restricted free agent had 77 points in 80 games and he brings that physical element that’s so key in the Western Conference.

“What we’ve tried to do a little bit this summer and even going into last year was the introduction of a lot of young players over the last year,” Treliving said, per NHL.com. “We think we’ve got some good young players here. A lot of them got their feet wet last year, and we’re looking for them to continue to grow.

“There’s young players that we feel still have room to grow. The bulk of our team is still a fairly young group. We want to give them the opportunity to continue to grab and grow their role.”

Treliving is right. His team is still young. The core forwards are all 25 or younger, so there’s room for them to grow but this is an important year for the entire team. In order for them to take the next step, Treliving will have to improve this roster throughout the season. The Flames have all their own draft picks except their fourth-rounder, which means they’ll have the ammo to make a significant deal during the season/before the trade deadline.

Can he add the right pieces as the season progresses?

The Flames’ biggest question mark is still between the pipes. Last year, the duo of David Rittich and Mike Smith helped the team collect 107 points. Now, Smith is gone and they replaced him with Cam Talbot. Is a Talbot-Rittich duo better than what they had last year? That’s very debatable. But we’ll find out soon enough.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s Calgary Flames Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

2018-19
50-25-7, 107 points (1st in Pacific Division, 1st in Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in the first round to Colorado in five games

IN
Milan Lucic
Brandon Davidson
Cam Talbot

OUT
Michael Stone
James Neal
Mike Smith
Curtis Lazar

RE-SIGNED
David Rittich
Sam Bennett
Rinat Valiev

2018-19 Season Summary

After not making the playoffs by 11 points in 2018, the Calgary Flames decided it was time to make some changes. They fired Glen Gulutzen and named Bill Peters as their head coach. After landing Peters, they decided to make a blockbuster deal with his old team, the Carolina Hurricanes. Calgary ended up getting Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin and the move ended up making a world of a difference. Lindholm was one of five Calgary Flames to collect at least 74 points in 2018-19, while Hanifin ended up averaging almost 21 minutes of ice time.

The added firepower and the solid group of players that were already on the roster combined to give the Flames a lethal team. Not only did they win the Pacific Division, they also finished in top spot in the Western Conference. That’s a pretty significant turnaround in just one year.

Johnny Gaudreau led the way with 99 points while Sean Monahan (82 points), Lindholm (78 points), Matthew Tkachuk (77 points) and Mark Giordano (74 points) helped make the Flames a dynamic attacking team.

The only clear weakness on the roster was between the pipes. Smith and Rittich held their own for most of the year, so that wasn’t really an issue between October and early April.

As you’d imagine, expectations were high in Calgary heading into the playoffs. Their first-round opponent, the Colorado Avalanche, were never going to be an easy out, but no one could’ve predicted how quickly the Flames’ Stanley Cup hopes would be extinguished.

Nothing went right for the playoffs for the Flames. Gaudreau couldn’t put the puck in the net, Mike Smith wasn’t coming up with key saves, and other contributors like Lindholm and Monahan just couldn’t create the same amount of offense they did during the regular season. It was bad. Calgary went down in five games and the joy of a great regular season quickly faded.

All the optimism surrounding the team for most of the year was gone. Brad Treliving went from GM genius to needing to find solutions in a hurry. He made some bold moves this off-season but it’s difficult to say if this edition of the team is better than the one that took to the ice last season.

[MORE: Under Pressure: Treliving | 3 QuestionsTalbot the X-Factor]

They swapped Mike Smith for Cam Talbot. So they got younger in goal but the tandem of Talbot and Rittich will still have some question marks heading into the season. They sent free-agent flop James Neal to Edmonton for the ageless wonder, Milan Lucic, but that’s not a move that will make them better or worse.

The biggest question mark heading into the season is whether or not they will get Tkachuk signed to a new contract. The restricted free agent racked up a significant amount of points last year but his contributions are even more significant than that. He brings a level of physicality, nastiness and heart to the ice every game. The Flames will be missing a huge piece of their squad if this contract stalemate doesn’t get resolved before the start of the season.

Have the young veterans on this club learned from last year’s playoff disappointment? We’ll find out soon enough, but there’s no denying that this team is talented enough to do some damage in the Western Conference.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Ducks likely to ask for too much from Getzlaf (again)

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.

The aging process is cruel to just about everyone, aside from your rare duck like Paul Rudd.

If Ryan Getzlaf needed a reminder, the Anaheim Ducks’ 2018-19 season dropped that memo on his desk. Not only did the Ducks miss the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12, but they missed the mark by a mile.

Changes came, and they were harsh. The Second Randy Carlyle Era mercifully ended, giving way for new head coach Dallas Eakins. Maybe most jarringly, Getzlaf’s former power forward partner in crime Corey Perry was bought out.

On one hand, you have Eakins saying the right things about bringing along the Ducks’ younger forwards, many of whom he got to know while coaching an AHL affiliate that was as successful as the Ducks were flailing.

“Ryan Getzlaf is our captain and he’s been an excellent one, but we’re looking for people to step up and to help him with that,” Eakins said. “Whether you’re an older guy or a younger guy, someone has helped you along the way, made a positive influence on you, and I believe it’s for everybody to chip in on that.”

On the other hand, a mere glance up and down the Ducks’ roster makes it tough to deny that Anaheim will be leaning heavily on a 34-year-old who’s been leaned on far too much during a rugged NHL career.

[MORE DUCKS: X-Factor | Three Questions | 2018-19 Summary]

Getzlaf was limited to 67 games played in 2018-19, and it says a lot about both Getzlaf and the Ducks that he still managed to lead the team in scoring with 48 points. This came after only playing in 56 games in 2017-18, and missing at least five games in each season from 2013-14 through 2016-17.

All signs point to Getzlaf entering a stage where he takes more of a supporting role, much like Joe Thornton settled into with San Jose.

With all due respect to promising prospects like Sam Steel and Troy Terry, it doesn’t seem like the Ducks have the Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl-type players to ease Getzlaf’s burden, unless Anaheim is embracing a rebuild (abbreviated or full) more than they’re letting on.

With an average of 19:28 TOI per game, Getzlaf ranked 38th among NHL forwards last season. That’s more average ice time than Hertl, John Tavares, and Sean Monahan. That’s simply not a wise course to take with a big center as beat up as Getzlaf seems to be.

Again, Eakins emphasizing youth is a promising sign, but the Ducks’ other actions make you wonder if GM Bob Murray will blink if those young players struggle early on.

Honestly? The early results make you wonder if Murray sees the team’s potential clearly.

For one thing, it’s possible that the Ducks might have been better off just waiting out Corey Perry’s bloated final two years, rather than gaining marginal savings while spreading things out — oddly — for four years:

Cap hit over the life of Perry’s buyout:
2019-20: $2,625,000
2020-21: $6,625,000
2021-22: $2,000,000
2022-23: $2,000,000

That first season of savings might just be worth it … for a contender. Along with the Perry buyout, you have the Ducks extending Jakob Silfverberg, a 28-year-old whose prime window may close just as the Ducks might get back on track. Such moves inspire concerns about Bob Murray keeping his expectations realistic for 2019-20.

Really, with Getzlaf himself only having two years left under contract, the Ducks should probably be doing some soul-searching about his future, beyond “Can Getzlaf drag us to the playoffs this time around?”

Such thoughts are painful, but if the Ducks place too much weight on their captain’s shoulders yet again, 2019-20’s pain could feel unpleasantly familiar, as Anaheim risks a replay of the agony of 2018-19 … for themselves, and for Getzlaf in particular.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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.