The player: James Neal, 30, right wing
Where does he fit in?
GM Brad Traveling orchestrated a huge draft-day trade with the Carolina Hurricanes. Part of that deal meant acquiring Elias Lindholm to play on the top line alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. The Flames' forward core is exciting, but especially young; Gaudreau, Lindholm, Monahan and Tkachuk are all under the age of 25. Neal complements that with experience. He joins the team after back-to-back appearances in the Stanley Cup Final (with two different teams).
What Neal brings most is consistency. He has played in the NHL for 10 seasons, for four different teams, and has never scored less than 20 goals. This is a team that missed the playoffs last season solely because of a late-season tailspin (Calgary dropped 14 of its last 19 games). The hope is that a veteran like Neal can be a stabilizer on offense to prevent that from happening again.
Does this deal make sense?
The Flames were looking for depth scoring this offseason, and certainly addressed that. Besides the Neal signing, the Flames made some savvy bottom-six moves.
Twenty-five-year old Austin Czarnik (two-year deal for $2.5 million) is an underrated budget signing that could pay off in a fourth-line role, and Derek Ryan (three years, $3.125 million per season) is an excellent two-way center who excels in the faceoffs and might push Mark Jankowski down from the third line.
Signing Neal is a coup though, considering the interest from elsewhere (especially to stay in Vegas), and the money doesn't hamstring the Flames going forward.
Five years feels long for a 30-year-old. At the same time, there were plenty of suitors out there for Neal, and term was likely the one sticking point Neal's camp wouldn't shy away from.
It's not so bad considering Neal hasn't showed any signs of regression. He scored 25 goals and 44 points in 71 games with the Golden Knights last season, plus six goals and 11 points in 20 games in the playoffs. He has only played a full-82 game season once, but in 10 seasons only played less than 60 games in a full season once (2013-14).
He was one of the most heralded free agents available this summer, and the Flames were able to convince him to come to Calgary. That's big.