It’s a trade. No one (at least on this side of Red Deer) asked for it, and no one particularly wants it (especially on this side of Red Deer), but it’s something that happened after three weeks of nothing happening.

No, we shouldn’t consider that, mostly because this trade has no impact on the Flames’ expansion draft plans.

Let’s time travel back to Thursday when Lucic wasn’t in the Flames’ plans and Neal still was. We’re going to assume extensions happen for some RFAs, and we’re going to ignore goalies since they really don’t factor into the arithmetic. Here’s the list of players who are signed until 2021 that the Flames can protect, with some notes and caveats in the brackets:

Forwards: Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm, Neal (still part of the team in this hypothetical), Matthew Tkachuk (presumably signed past 2021), Derek Ryan (2021 UFA), Dillon Dube (2021 RFA), Andrew Mangiapane (presumably signed past 2021), Sam Bennett (maybe signed past 2021, depending on if he gets traded this season), Mark Jankowski (who knows  if he’s still with the team, but still RFA at the end of 2020 so it is possible), Matthew Phillips (2021 RFA), maybe at least one NHL vet they add between now and 2021

Defence: Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin, Juuso Valimaki (RFA 2021), Rasmus Andersson (presumably extended beyond 2021), Oliver Kylington (presumably extended beyond 2021)

So let’s say the Flames go 7F-3D-1G. They’ll at least protect Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, and Tkachuk, with the added luxury of protecting three other forwards. The issue is obviously in the defence, where they face exposing at least one, and maybe even two of their U25 defencemen. Even if they go bold and expose Giordano to protect as many youngsters as possible, they still have one exposed. They would lose a good defender in that scenario.

Let’s look at the alternate expansion draft scheme where they protect eight skaters and one goalie. This allows them to protect at least four of their defenders while leaving another exposed, so the problem is only half solved, kind of. But they’ll also expose way more forwards under the 8-1 format, as they can only protect Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, and Tkachuk, running the risk of exposing and losing one of Dube, Mangiapane, or any of their other forwards.

Simply put, the Flames were bound to run into expansion draft issues with or without Lucic. No matter which protection option they choose, they’ll be exposing some big names for Seattle. I don’t want to project thoughts onto Flames management, but they likely also did these calculations, found out they were screwed anyways, and decided that they were comfortable adding Lucic’s NMC to an already messy future problem if it meant solving a more immediate problem.

That’s the ideal Lucic exit strategy: play him for a year, and then try and ship him off elsewhere. That’ll be tough, but it is still doable.

I wouldn’t look at Vancouver. The rumour was that they were interested in pawning off Loui Eriksson, another man with a buyout proof contract, for Lucic. Eriksson’s contract is slightly more expensive than Lucic’s right now ($6M versus $5.25M), but ends one year earlier and has an NTC instead of an NMC. The Flames still don’t gain anything from buying him out, but they can expose him to the expansion draft without his permission and it’s less painful to see his contract through to the end.

Ideally, you shed him completely without taking back bad money. The trade destination next offseason for that will be the Ottawa Senators. As of this writing, they have $26.9M committed to the cap for the 2020-21 season. They’ll need a lot of cap hits to even hit the cap floor, and they can’t send away Bobby Ryan to do so. If the Flames did what Edmonton did and waited until Lucic’s signing bonuses get paid, they’ll send Ottawa $5.25M in cap hits over the next three seasons, but with only $10M in actual money that needs to be paid during that time frame. It’s a trade that serves the purposes of both teams.

The kicker is Lucic’s NMC. He did waive it to help Edmonton out, but that was when the options included either heading to a Stanley Cup contender, or heading home to Vancouver. I don’t know if he’ll feel equally as generous to waive his only leverage if the destination is Ottawa.

Lucic is probably going to start on the fourth line. Not because they have nowhere else they can play him, but because he has actually been helpful as a fourth liner for Edmonton.

With the Oilers, Lucic put up a respectable 50.72% 5v5 CF% (+3.51% rel) with 44.78 OZS%. He was buried and made the most of it. Don’t take the numbers to mean that he’s a fancy stats diamond in the rough who will break out in Calgary, but just that he was a decent player on a below-average team. He was one of Edmonton’s better defensive forwards, finishing third in CA/60 among all forwards who played more than 200 5v5 minutes with 53.11 CA/60.

That 53.11 CA/60 would be ninth among Flames forwards, so don’t get too excited, but with managed minutes and better linemates (Derek Ryan > Kyle Brodziak), Lucic can probably be a reliable defensive option. Not a Selke contender, but a guy who just keeps things quiet in his own end. He likely won’t score points, but he’ll play defence, and that’s more than what Neal could do in those circumstances.

On that note, I really wouldn’t try Lucic on the power play or with any offensive roles. While his defensive metrics have remained positive, his offence has completely cratered. His most valuable offensive skill is being big, which was Troy Brouwer’s role on the infamous BrouwerPlay. The Flames can do better than him.

Well, you’re sacrificing Neal’s unrealized offensive potential for Lucic’s ability to play defence. Who knows if Neal would’ve scored 20 goals next season had he remained with the Flames, but management bet he couldn’t, and went for Lucic who could at least contribute positively in one area of the ice. In that sense, it improves the team somewhat, cutting losses at one particular facet and shoring up another one that was deficient.

It’s also at the margins of the team that it doesn’t really matter. Who really cares who the overpaid fourth line winger is? Here are some questions that the Flames need to answer that will be more meaningful to them next season: can they find a top six winger upgrade for when Michael Frolik inevitably gets traded? Will they upgrade their centre position? How will they handle the presumed departure of TJ Brodie? Will Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube take those next steps? Will Cam Talbot be a suitable backup?

Although the names are big, the reality is that the Flames replaced one bottom six winger with another one. The only reason this trade is big is because of the money involved, and money doesn’t matter to the on-ice product.

I don’t think this is a standard trade where you can declare teams winners or losers based on value of players exchanged, mostly because nothing of value was exchanged. The teams essentially swapped bottom six wingers with different contract structures. Neither team was looking to fleece their opponents, they were looking to pass on their problems.

The Oilers shed the Lucic contract. In their perspective, they’ve already won regardless of what happens in the future. Neal could score 100 goals or three goals over the remainder of his contract and it wouldn’t matter because they moved out the albatross contract that they had extreme difficulty moving in the past. With Neal, they have a more tradeable contract with the additional bonus that they can actually buy this one out if it gets to that point. Anything else that happens after this trade is just gravy to them.

For the Flames, they were able to move their expensive headache without needing to sweeten the pot with an attractive future asset or take on additional cap hits. The thing that prevents it from being an immediate win on Calgary’s side is that they’ve taken back another expensive headache that may require sweetening the pot with an attractive future asset or taking on additional cap hits to move. Lucic may thrive in the roles that Neal couldn’t with the Flames, but he still has that awful contract that will gunk up the Flames’ cap situation until 2023. Until the Flames can move on from it, it’s not a great trade for the team.

If Flames get rid of Lucic next off-season scot free, they’ll have found an out from two of the NHL’s worst contracts without sacrificing much of consequence. If they can do that, it’s a win. If they’re forced to stick with the contract for a few more years, they’re losers.


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