52Milan Lucic
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

Compensatory pick could solve last summer’s Neal-Lucic swap

It’s the trade that keeps on giving. Last July’s James Neal-Milan Lucic swap between the Flames and Oilers included a third round draft pick heading south if certain conditions were met. But because the 2019-2020 season has been deemed complete in unprecedented fashion, that conditional pick is floating in a grey area. Or is it? It all depends on who you ask, which is why a compensatory pick could solve this rather painlessly.

For those who aren’t familiar, Calgary would have received a third round pick if the following conditions were met: Neal scores 21 or more goals and also finishes with ten or more than Lucic. At the time of the league’s pause in March, Neal had 19 goals with 11 games to go, while Lucic had eight with 12 still to play. As of right now, neither team knows for sure what’s going to happen.

“I think all of the focus has been on getting this return to play plan put in place,” Flames’s GM Brad Treliving told reporters on a conference call in late May. “All that is yet to be decided…there’s lots of conditional issues whether they tie to, you know, teams making the playoffs, not making the playoffs, picks, so on and so forth. There has been no determination on it. The league is aware of all the issues and, you know, at some point they will make a determination. At this point those are still just issues on the to-do list.”

Edmonton’s case

Strictly speaking, the conditions of this trade were not met. At least that was Ken Holland’s thinking earlier in the off-ish season.

“He had to score 21 goals,” Edmonton’s GM said. “If you look at the trade memo, there is nothing in there about pro-rating or anything. It’s pretty black and white. If we’re able to complete the season, it will play itself out and hopefully, James scores a few more goals because we’re going to need some to play our way into the playoffs. But if not, my understanding is we’d get our third-round pick back.”

With a return to play format now finalized, we know the regular season will not be completed. As such, the Oilers are well within their rights to hold firm on not sending anything Calgary’s way. Sure, the Flames could argue there’s a good chance Neal would have scored two more and met the trade’s condition. On the other hand, that logic could just as easily work against Calgary.

Aided partially by an injury, Neal hadn’t scored a goal since December 31st, a stretch that saw him play 13 games. In that same span, Lucic had five goals in 28 games. You could equally argue things were trending in the direction of the Flames not getting this pick anyway, which certainly dilutes the pro-rating argument.

Calgary’s case

The biggest thing the Flames having going for them hinges on the concept of “good faith” when the trade was made. Holland and the Oilers were willing to give up a pick to complete this deal in July. Calgary’s argument would essentially be: if Edmonton was okay to give up a pick if conditions were met over 82 games, we shouldn’t come away completely empty-handed due to a pandemic.

Yes, I cover the Flames and like to poke fun at the Oilers from time to time, but I think it’s a somewhat flimsy argument, especially to force another team to surrender an asset. I don’t think Edmonton should have to give up that third round pick, as the conditions weren’t met. I guess you could argue for a later round pick going Calgary’s way, but that still doesn’t seem fair.

A potential solution?

Here’s how I see it. The conditions weren’t met, so Edmonton shouldn’t be penalized. However, in a totally unprecedented scenario, I don’t think the Flames are out of their tree to lobby for something. A compensatory pick would be a nice medium to help satisfy both sides (and other similar situations around the league).

If that were to happen, the NHL would award Calgary a pick at the end of a round; let’s choose the fifth round for sake of conversation. It would essentially make the 2020 fifth round 32 picks long instead of 31 and serves two masters: nothing surrendered for one and something gained in good faith for the other.

The only downside to this idea would be potential griping by other teams, as their final few picks would be pushed back one spot. By making a compensatory pick later on, though, I feel those voices would be more muted than if it were plopped into the top 100.

Much like the two teams in question, and likely the league, I have no idea how this is going to play out. But if the NHL is keen on listening to both teams, compensating one side without taxing the other feels like the easiest path to a solution.