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A Real Deal

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After this year’s playoffs, the Oilers ought to gauge the league’s interest in James Neal

Calgary Flames v Edmonton Oilers
Would Seattle have any interest in Neal?
Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Nearly one year ago, a good day happened.

The Oilers freed themselves of Milan Lucic’s seemingly immovable deal. Lucic was headed to Calgary (along with his NMC) for James Neal and fraction in retained salary.

The deal was an instant winner for the Oilers, Not only did Milan Lucic get a fresh start in Calgary, but James Neal got one in coming to Edmonton. Even better? Neal’s contract didn’t come with a NMC. This gives Edmonton quite a bit more flexibility should they decide to do something.

With the cap likely remaining flat for the next few years, they might have to.

WHY NEAL?

If you were to take a look at nothing but points, Neal didn’t have a bad season. It was certainly much better than his previous season in Calgary, a year where he picked up just seven goals and 19 points. Neal popped off 19 goals and 12 assists in 55 games. That might be a 45 point season over the course of 82 games, which isn’t exactly chopped liver.

The yellow lights? Neal will be 33 in September, he shot a career 17% this year, he scored 12 of his 19 goals while on the power play. If he’s away from Connor McDavid (likely) or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (also likely) for any length of time, his numbers will take a dip.

What am I getting at? It’s wise to start looking at options.

TRADE

After this season ends (whenever that is), the Oilers will have to find room for Ethan Bear, figure out what they want to do with Tyler Ennis (who I think has a very good chance at coming back), Riley Sheahan, Patrick Russell, Mike Smith, as well as RFAs Matt Benning and Andreas Athanasiou. They’ll have about ten million in cap space to do that with.

For every reason listed above, it would be a good idea to see if there’s any interest at all for James Neal. If Neal goes nuclear in the playoffs, that would be a big help. Neal’s point total will dip once he’s off the top two lines (he’ll almost certainly be a bottom six player in the playoffs), so the Oilers would do well to see if anyone in the league is interested. Speeds made a good point earlier today when it was suggested that the Oilers could hold 50% of Neal’s salary, which would clear up almost 3 million a year for the next three years. The problem comes when you figure out that the league isn’t full of teams with cap space. Only 11 teams could absorb a 2.8MM+ cap hit, and I’m not sure they’re going to use that all on James Neal.

BUYOUT

Typically, the buyout period opens up before free agency and once again as the season approaches. The Oilers could buyout James Neal, which would take his 5.75MM cap hit and make it a much more manageable 1.91MM, but it would be six years of that dead cap hit on the books. Edmonton has a couple of dead money contracts in Benoit Pouliot and Andrej Sekera already, would it be enough of a benefit the Oilers to toss nearly 2MM more a year (for six years!) on that pile?

EXPANSION

If the Oilers can’t find a dance partner via the trade route, and they don’t want to buy out Neal and hold six years of dead cap space, they could send up a prayer that Seattle would select James Neal at the expansion draft. That’s a long shot, but there’s always the chance that the Oilers could offer a draft pick to Seattle to help sweeten the deal. If the Oilers can somehow entice Seattle to take James Neal off their hands in 2021, that’s going to help free up some much needed cap space if the Oilers plan on bringing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back into the fold.

The Oilers are going to need to find some cap space in the near future. They could move on from Kris Russell (4MM, one year) or maybe they can find a taker for Alex Chiasson (2.15MM, one year). They’d do very well to gauge the league’s interest in James Neal (5.75MM, three years), as it would make retaining some core pieces much easier.