Zach Kassian

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.

Habs’ biggest question: Scoring

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Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin and head coach Michel Therrien seem pretty low-key about their team’s underwhelming offense.

Therrien: “We scored just eight fewer goals than the Chicago Blackhawks.”

Bergevin (paraphrasing): “Hey, the New York Rangers were winning a bunch of 2-1 games, so let’s keep doing what we’re doing.”

Yes, the NHL is a league where defense and goaltending are highly important facets of the game, but at what point does the balance go off?

There are plenty of warning signs that the Canadiens could face a severe dip if the current “Carey can handle it” plan falls through.

They’ve been a weak possession team. Spin goal totals whichever way you’d like, but the bottom line is that their 221 goals for tied the Pittsburgh Penguins for the least of any playoff team last season.

While the Penguins acquired in-his-prime polarizing sniper Phil Kessel this summer, the Canadiens didn’t do much beyond adding fading polarizing sniper Alexander Semin and polarizing pest Zach Kassian to the mix.

Yes, Max Pacioretty deserves the accolades heaped upon him from sources including Jonathan Quick. It’s true that P.K. Subban can lead the charge on offense to an often dazzling degree. Semin could regain his self-confidence and upstarts like Alex Galchenyuk could make significant strides in their game.

Still, Therrien is considered a taskmaster and defense first-second-and-third sort of coach, so it wouldn’t be prudent to expect him to implement changes that would drastically boost offense.

If goals come, it will be in some combination of better shooting luck, nice work from the likes of Semin and improvement from within.

When you take everything under consideration, it’s tough to shake the impression that Montreal is more or less asking Price to repeat his all-world work from 2014-15.

Quintal highlights knee-on-knee penalties

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For the first time since taking over from Brendan Shannahan as Senior Vice President of Player Safety, Stephane Quintal addressed the NHL general managers during meetings in Toronto on Tuesday.

Quintal’s main concern is the rash of knee-on-knee penalties around the league through the first month and a half of the season.

Zach Kassian is just one example. The Vancouver Canucks forward has missed two weeks of action after colliding with Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden.

Holden was assessed a minor penalty for tripping on the play. Kassian, who is expected to return to Vancouver’s lineup tonight, has missed five games due to an injury resulting from the hit.

“There have been statistically more of those penalties this year versus the last couple years,” said Blackhawks GM, Stan Bowman. “It could just be one of those things that over the first six weeks you’ve had a few more than in the past.

“We touched on the fact that those numbers are up.”

We have a trade to announce: Canucks get Kassian, Gragnani; Sabres get Hodgson, Sulzer

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Boring trade deadline, you say? Wrong. The Canucks and Sabres pulled off a big deal right at the buzzer – forward Cody Hodgson and defenseman Alexander Sulzer go to Buffalo in return for forward Zach Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani.

Hodgson, 22, is a talented center that’s in the midst of a breakout season with the Canucks (16G, 17A.) He can put the puck in the net and he can make plays. However, with Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler locking down the top two center spots, it was tough to find him the kind of quality ice time he needs.

Kassian, 21, is a big, tough power forward, i.e. the kind of player the Canucks have been looking for. He’s not the player Hodgson is today, and Canucks GM Mike Gillis is taking a big risk in that regard.

Gragnani, a 24-year-old offensive defenseman, should fit in well on a Vancouver team that uses its back end to create offense. He could be the wildcard in this deal.