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TALKING POINTS: Holland on acquiring forward James Neal

Oilers Pres. of Hockey Ops and GM Ken Holland spoke Friday night following the trade for James Neal from Calgary for Milan Lucic and a conditional third-round pick

by Staff /

Q: Can you begin by commenting on the acquisition of James Neal today for Milan Lucic and a conditional third-round pick, along with what James can bring to the table for the Oilers next season?

A: First off, both are very good players who've had great careers. But things probably haven't worked out for James Neal in Calgary the way he wanted, and things haven't worked out in Edmonton for a number of years for Milan Lucic. I became manager in early to mid-May, and talking to a lot of people I wanted to find out if I could do something to change the chemistry of the team a little bit and at the same time try to make a move that would be in the best interest of the Oilers.

It's good for Milan and Calgary, but as it pertains to the Oilers, certainly we think James is a guy that's going to be in our top six. He scored 20 goals or more for 10 or 11 seasons, he's going to get a real opportunity to play with one of our top-two centres, and probably play on one of our two power-play units. So we're hoping that this fresh opportunity for James is going to energize him and get him excited to bounce back and be the guy that's scored 20 or more goals throughout most of his career.

Video: AUDIO | Ken Holland Interview 07.19.19

Q: When you look at the research and the history of the player, he was one of 38 players in NHL history to score 20-plus goals in his first 10 seasons and he's been an elite scoring winger since 2008. How confident are you in him finding that again, and what are some of the preliminary talks you've had with him so far?

A: You never know. You're trying to speculate on the future. I just think with what you've just said, I can go to the record book and see James has built up a resume. I looked at the resume and then I looked at the opportunity on our hockey club. Certainly with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, I don't know how [Oilers Head Coach] Dave Tippett is going to play those three players, but ultimately two of those guys are going to be our top-two centremen. Any of those three guys has the ability to create scoring opportunities for their linemates.

James has proven in his career that when he gets scoring chances, he can bury the puck. When you look at what we have on our team in those centres, you look at his resume and what he's done in his career. Then I look and see it's been a tough couple years here for Lucic, and I just felt that as we went along over the last few weeks talking to Calgary that if we could find a way to make a deal, it would be great for Milan, great for the Calgary Flames, and hopefully great for the Oilers. You want deals that are good for both teams, so as it pertains to us we needed more offence.

The moves we've made over the last month signing guys like Josh Archibald and Markus Granlund, we're trying to create scoring players on the bottom part of our forward group that can chip in double-digit goals. But we were certainly looking for a guy we thought could play in our top six with the potential to score 20 goals. That's what James has done for a long time. He didn't do it last year in Calgary, but we're hoping he's excited about the opportunity, he's energized, he has a big summer, and we're hoping with the new opportunity and the playmaking centremen that he can get back to scoring 20-plus goals.

Q: It seems like this trade had some rumblings since the beginning of summer leading up to the NHL Draft. How long was this deal in the works?

A: [Flames General Manager Brad Treliving] and I were talking on and off in the lead up to the draft, so middle-to-late June. It heated up here over the last 10 days, then early this week it got cranked up to another level. We had to ask Lucic to waive his No-Movement Clause, which he obviously did, so a few weeks. Some trades go quick, some trades take time.

Q: You've been working hand in hand with Tippett since his hiring. What input did you receive from him? He was the coach of the Dallas Stars in 2008 during James' rookie season.

A: I guess my management style is to talk to all my key people. Certainly I talked to [Assistant General Manager] Keith Gretzky and I talked to [VP of Player Development] Scott Howson. I talked to [Director of Pro Scouting] Archie Henderson and obviously I talked to Dave. I spoke with Ken Hitchcock and Bob Nicholson, who then talked to Daryl Katz our owner. We've had lots of internal conversations. I've talked to a lot of people in our organization over the last few weeks and eventually worked our way towards today pulling the trigger on the deal. We're excited about the deal, and I'm hoping James can come in and play great and provide some more offence for us.

Q: How important was the relationship aspect of this deal? Connor McDavid seems to be quite fond of him, he's a good friend with goaltender Mike Smith, and of course Tippett was his coach back in Dallas.

A: Certainly relationships are important, but it's hard to get 20 friends together. Dave's relationship with James goes back to when he was a really young player. We all grow older and change a little bit, but certainly this deal was about making a change to our team. They had some struggles last year. Two years ago they obviously had a run to the second round of the playoffs, but I'm trying to change the dynamic and change the chemistry. Certainly I talked to Dave, and I lean on my coach wherever I go because he needs to be on board with whatever moves I make. You talk to all your key people, and ultimately I found a deal that the Flames felt good about and we felt good about. I'm hoping the deal works great for both teams and creates a real buzz in our rivalry.

Q: The conditions are fairly complicated than the average condition on a draft pick. Where did yours and Brad's conversations start on that?

A: You look at the money they're both making with term, and it's similar money. Then you look at the different structures, and there are two different structures. There's a completely different structure on the Neal contract than there is on the Lucic contract.

Calgary appears to have their top six set in stone more than the Oilers do at this time when you look at the year they had last year and the players they have, so there's a little bit more opportunity for someone to come in here to Edmonton and play on some of the power-play units and play with some of our offensive players. The deal was put into place factoring in the opportunity, the structures of the contracts, and ultimately we worked our way to the deal because it has to work for both sides. It can't be a deal that's one-sided; it has to be a deal that both feel good about. So certainly, Brad Treliving and Ken Holland feel good today that they were able to put together a deal that's beneficial to both teams.

Q: You've made a number of signings this off-season and now today's trade. Where do you feel like you're at in terms of progress since you took over back in May, and it's fair to say we can assume more activity if it calls for it in the future?

A: Obviously I have one outstanding situation with the Jesse Puljujarvi situation that I have to decide what I'm going to do, whether I decide I'm going to trade him or if I decide that there's nothing that makes sense and he needs to make a decision about he wants to do for this upcoming season.

Beyond that, I'd say to you for the most part I'm looking forward to getting to training camp. I'll continue to talk to managers here over this summer. You've always got little things that you'd like to do or change, so we'll see.

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