Solution resolved in the case of Milan Lucic and James Neal, whose all-Alberta exchange was just another thing further complicated by COVID-19. Edmonton must send a third rounder in the 2020 or 2021 Draft, the decision to be made at the draft and round within.
The deal, completed last summer to give the pair of high-priced, underwhelming veteran forwards a change of scenery, stipulated the transfer of a third in the event that Neal scored at least 21 goals and Lucic scored 10 or less. We now turn to Hockey God’s for the stat lines. Neal–19 goals in 55 games; Lucic–8 in 68.
Close enough, says the NHL, who need not to hear about Neal’s pre-pause 13-game scoring drought (which followed a three-goal, four-point outing on New Year’s Eve). After the qualifying round it’s another three years at $5.75 million per for Neal; Lucic, by the way, is a Flame during that same span at a slight discount of $5.25 million. But it’s a slight edge for Lucic in the postseason department, who has a cool 10 more games to his postseason resume that includes one Cup and a trip versus Neal’s back-to-back trips as finalist with Nashville and Las Vegas, respectively.
This ruling and chatter of an over year aged trade comes just prior to Calgary’s puck drop in the qualifying round versus Winnipeg on Sunday. So how might this swap for change come to matter on the big stage to a woefully inexperienced Flames team (i.e. Mark Giordano’s surprisingly just 13 playoff contests)
“This time of the year is part of the reason why we did the deal,” said interim head coach, Geoff Ward. “The things that he brings to the room with his experience, I think he’s been invaluable for us.”
Ward, whose NHL coaching career began in 2007-08 with Boston as an assistant under Claude Julien, entered the same season a 19-year-old Lucic came on the scene. The pair would go on to win a Cup together in 2011 and both depart in 2015–Lucic traded to Los Angeles, Ward joining John Hynes’ staff in New Jersey.
“We just wanted him to come and play his game,” he said. “We really felt that he would get back to how he used to play and I think that was something that he wanted to do at the beginning of the season talking to us. When the pause hit, he was on a bit of a run for us. I don’t think it was out of the question with the way that he was playing, he might have ended up with 12 to 15 goals for us.
“We’ve seen really good progress in terms of where he was to where he is now. Part of the deal and reasoning for bringing him here was exactly for this time of year. We’re happy he’s in our locker room.”
Lucic, who you just might have forgotten has 70 points when it matters, is also aware of the important things–or unlike his frame, it’s the smaller things that matter.
“In this situation I think that’s where preparation comes in more that anything,” Lucic said. “You have to create your own emotion, create your own momentum.”
We now go live to Alexei Emelin and Dale Weise for more on just the kind of emotion Lucic has to offer…
“That’s the experience I’ll be trying to bring to the team,” he said. “For me and my experience, I always feel like it’s who’s willing to do the little things more often, more consistently and stick with it. Maybe it’s a breakout pass, getting the puck out, dumping the puck in, winning those one-on-one battles, face-off’s, blocking shots.
“It’s the repetitiveness of all those things that ultimately get you to where you want to go.”
Flames interim head coach, Geoff Ward wouldn’t tip his hat to who will start game 1 versus Winnipeg on Saturday only saying that one of David Rittich or Cam Talbot will start.
The first game of the qualifying round series will be the first postseason playoff game Ward has coached. His last two appearances have come as an assistant including last season with Calgary and in 2017-18 with New Jersey. Ward says he plans to sit down and talk to his former colleague, John Hynes, now the head coach of Nashville.
Matthew Tkachuk, who led the team in scoring this season–61 points in 69 games–will play postseason hockey for the third time in four seasons. In 9 postseason games, he’s scored two goals and an assist.