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Could a Three-Team Trade Help Oilers Move Forward James Neal?

If the Edmonton Oilers get creative, they could use an interesting strategy to trade James Neal in the offseason.

If you’re a fan of the salary cap, you should be following popular Twitter account Puck Pedia. Often tweeting about what NHL clubs did, can do and where they sit in terms of their respective caps, every once and a while, they toss out an interesting idea or two. They did so this past week, one that specifically could benefit the Edmonton Oilers.

Related: Oilers Sign Dylan Holloway to Entry-Level Contract

Essentially, they’ve suggested that the Edmonton Oilers might be better off not buying out forward James Neal as many expect they’ll do this offseason. Neal has struggled and had a largely forgettable season. Hit by COVID early, he’s not been a factor in recent weeks and it doesn’t seem like the Oilers are likely to use one of their three remaining taxi squad calls to get him into the lineup down the stretch. But, he’s also not the easiest player to move as he’s got a virtually untradeable contract…. Maybe.

Puck Pedia suggests the Oilers should employ a similar strategy used by teams at this year’s NHL trade deadline. Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning grabbed some fairly expensive players this season and it cost them a couple of later-round draft picks to facilitate the deals.

In Neal’s case, Puck Pedia suggests that Oilers general manager Ken Holland find a third team to be part of any Neal trade, and the second team retain some salary while the third team buys out the player. The move could save the Oilers $960K per season for four seasons.

How It Would Work

If the Oilers buy out Neal’s $5.75 million contract this offseason, a buyout costs $1.92M/year for four years. But, if the Oilers retained 50% in a trade to Team A, then Team A retained 25% in a trade to Team B, everyone gets something out of the deal. Team B could buy Neal out. The next four seasons for all three teams would be:

  • Oilers: $960,000/year
  • Team A: $480,000/year
  • Team B: $480,000/year

Puck Pedia figures this is doable because teams have already set a market price for retaining salary in three-team trades at this year’s deadline. If the Oilers are willing to move a couple small sweeteners in those trades, it becomes a question of whether Holland would rather save $960K per season or lose a couple of later-round conditional draft picks?

They note: “If it costs a 4th Round Pick for a team to retain ~$1.2M for 25% of a season, what’s the cost to retain $500K for a few years? Could we see a new buyout strategy?” There’s certainly going to be debate about what it would take for a team to agree to hold onto $480K per season for four seasons, but an argument can be made that teams waste more money than this per year without even blinking.

If you factor in some teams may be desperate to add picks and the Oilers could work out deals where they take lesser contracts back — ones that aren’t nearly as crippling as Neal’s — you never know what possibilities might present themselves.

James Neal Edmonton Oilers
James Neal Edmonton Oilers

Could This Be a New Trend?

It’s certainly an interesting idea to consider and Puck Pedia thinks more teams might look at this in the offseason. The NHL doesn’t mind because the money all stays inside the system and teams with cap space can get a later-round pick for doing nothing more than hosting less than $500K in salary. For players with a salary less than Neal’s $5.75, it’s even less than that.

Obviously, for the Oilers, if it becomes a situation where if it takes two 4th-round picks to make this move, Holland will really have to determine what’s of more value to him, the cap space or the picks. If the asking price from teams is 3rd or 2nd round picks, it’s really not feasible for Edmonton when a buyout would make more sense.

Buying out a player is best avoided if possible, but there’s a line the Oilers will have to draw about what they’re willing to give up to avoid doing so. If they look around, find a couple of teams who don’t mind taking on a little cap space, and spread out over four years?… who knows.

Next: Jack Eichel to Los Angeles Kings Trade Rumor Picking Up Steam

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