It’s the time of year where National Hockey League clubs prepare for the frenzy of movement that will follow the NHL Draft. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was on Sportsnet 960’s morning show on Friday and reiterated a piece of information that’s been making the rounds: the Calgary Flames are looking at their trade options for James Neal.
Neal, 31, was signed to a five year contract with a $5.75 million cap hit last summer, with the rationale being that he was a guy who had (a) consistently scored lots at the NHL level and (b) had been on a few lengthy playoff runs and could help put the maturing Flames team over the team. Instead, he: struggled to find a consistent spot in the lineup, was injured mid-season, was criticized by observers for a perceived lack of foot-speed, and was a healthy scratch for the Flames’ final playoff game. None of those are encouraging signs for a player with four seasons left on his contract.
Neal had just seven goals and 19 points in 2018-19, which would be 14 fewer goals than his previous career low of 21 and 18 fewer points than his previous career low of 37.
Now, don’t take “the Flames are looking at their options” as meaning that the Flames are trading Neal. That’s not necessarily true. But general manager Brad Treliving has a reputation as a man that does his homework, and you never know if a deal comes together that makes sense for a Flames team that (a) really would like to make a run at a championship over the next few seasons and (b) has a pretty tight salary cap situation heading into the summer.
More likely than not, the Flames would need to eat some of Neal’s salary, eat a bad contract from the other team, or send a nice asset with Neal to sweeten the deal to get a trade done. But it remains to be seen which of those options, if any, is palatable enough to Treliving for him to make a move. While Neal does carry a hefty cap hit, his contract does not have any trade or movement restrictions attached to it.