This trade isn't nearly as bad for Calgary as everyone thinks/says it is. Everybody has to step back and look at the math.
Calgary and Edmonton are not New York or Los Angeles, or Toronto. Neal's contract was/is all salary, equally spread. Thus the Flames owed Neal $23 million over the next four years. In contrast, Lucic's contract was front-loaded and there was a $3 million signing bonus that Edmonton just paid, so Lucic is owed a total of $16 million by Calgary for the same period. Now subtract the retention ($3 million), and Calgary saves $10 million in real cash by this trade. Now $10 million to us sitting in the comfort of our armchairs at home may not seem important, but to the Calgary GM it means that he can offer a free agent next summer a $2.5 million signing bonus in every year on a four-year contract -- money he didn't have before, but which may mean the difference between being able to sign Matt Duchene or Artemi Panarin and being able to sign Ryan Dzingel. So although Edmonton may be the winner on the ice, Calgary is the winner at the bank.
I like this trade better for Edmonton, but after having time to think about it, I agree that it isn't nearly as bad for Calgary as I thought at first blush.
Edmonton does great. They have decent depth forwards, in fact after their 3 best players, that's all they have. Lucic making $6M to be that was atrocious, also his NMC could be a headache come the expansion draft as well.
However, when you look at how each of the players are playing, it's actually somewhat sensible swap of bad contracts. Lucic (surprisingly) has the underlying numbers of an effective 3/4th line winger. So if that is the role he is going to play, he has been more effective at driving play, keeping pucks away from his end, throwing a few hits and being effective in 12-13 minutes a night. The problem is he looks washed in terms of offensive ability, and that role is likely worth about $2M right now.
Neal is essentially a one dimensional weapon at this point. He still has a good looking release, and will maybe throw a few hits. He has more potential to bounce back in terms of offensive production, and if he is playing on a line that isn't worried about having him drive the offense, he could provide more value than Lucic did for Edmonton. It's a gamble, but there is more upside. Edmonton also doesn't have the same opportunity cost in putting him with a good center since he won't be taking a spot from a more effective winger to do so.
Calgary has some good wingers, so giving Neal PP1 wasn't going to happen, and he didn't fit with the more defensive minded Backlund line, and you certainly aren't taking either Gaudrea or Lindholm off that top line, so Neal would likely have continued to be an ineffective 3/4 winger in Calgary. So I don't think it's as crazy to just suggest that Calagary can make better use of Lucic than they ever would have gotten out of Neal.
They also did a decent job in hedging this bet with $500k in cap spavings, and a conditional 3rd. Throw in the $10M in cash savings, which for a team that does care about actual dollars may give him more freedom from the owner to use actual dollars, and I don't think this is that bad at all. If Neal does score over 21 goals, and Lucic is a good 3rd line winger, Edmonton looks good in year 1, but gives up a 3rd, and this could still work out that Lucic is better (for his role) for the rest of the contract after that. If that 3rd never moves, it will almost certainy be because Neal is a total bust, in which case he may actually be worse that Lucic, and in that scenario Calgary has made a very Saavy move.
Even typing about it I am convincing myself more and more that this was far smarter a move than I initially gave it credit for (my initial reaction was what was BT doing?!). I still think Edmonton did well in this deal, but I think the reality is that just because Edmonton can make better use of Neal, doesn't mean it would have been possible for Calgary to do so effectively.