After missing a golden opportunity to score in last night’s 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton forward Milan Lucic stopped mid-play, for a second, and slammed his stick on the back of the LA net. For a veteran forward, it was a surprising display of frustration in the middle of a play. You don’t see it very often, and it certainly caught my attention.
It’s tough to blame Lucic for being so frustrated. After all, his team has taken an embarrassing tailspin after last year’s second round appearance, falling to the basement of the NHL after a one-year absence from the place Edmonton has called home for most of the last decade. Lucic himself has had a truly poor season as well, struggling to produce and keep up in the NHL’s last true “heavy-hockey” hotbed.
Lucic has just nine goals on the season, and is on pace for his worst season since 2014-15. Lucic’s overall totals this season (9-21-30) simply are not good enough for a player
earning that makes $6 million per season. He likely won’t match last year’s point total (50 points) which would be a massive disappointment since many considered last year a down year.
If the point totals aren’t enough to frustrate you, then let’s dive a little deeper into his game. Lucic’s puck-handling has been horrendous for a large portion of this season. In Boston, and even in LA, Lucic was known for his ability to make and take a pass. Yes, he’s a big man that can bang, but he also had the ability to set up plays and make things happen in the offensive zone. For me, it was the most impressive thing he did with the Bruins during his prime years.
In Edmonton, that skill has basically been thrown out the window. Instead of setting guys up for chances, Lucic has had the play die on his stick far too often. His patented passes to no-man’s land have killed many cycles in the offensive zone, and his passes between the two point men have been a frustrating occurrence since day one in Edmonton.
Now that his goal scoring ability has dried up, he did have 23 a season ago, there really is no benefit to having Lucic in the lineup. He’s not helping on the powerplay, he’s not helping at five-on-five. In fact, he’s been more liability than anything for the club this season. It’s frustrating, because we have all seen what this player is capable of. This isn’t even remotely close and it’s forcing us to have a very difficult discussion.
As of this writing, Lucic hasn’t scored in 16 games, dating all the way back to December 23rd against Montreal. In that span, Edmonton’s $6 million man has just four assists. It’s been an ugly month and a half.
The best option, for player and team really, is to trade Milan Lucic if possible this off-season. I know some people will lose their minds because “WHO WILL PROTECT CONNOR?!!?!” and such, but the bottom line is Lucic isn’t going to do that. After all, Marc Savard’s career was basically ended via a cheap shot with Lucic feet away. That’s not a valid argument, no player can ‘protect’ the stars, it isn’t 1985.
Lucic isn’t producing like a $6 million forward should, he’s been a liability with the puck, and most nights he isn’t even engaged physically. I’m not sure what Edmonton is exactly paying for here, but they aren’t getting good value on this deal, not even close.
Dealing him to a team like Montreal or Florida for a different contract can benefit both sides. I think Lucic could use a fresh start, while the Oilers absolutely need to get out from under the player. The Oilers should be building a fast and skilled team around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Lucic goes completely against that.
The ideal scenario, for Peter Chiarelli or whomever takes over for him in the coming months, is to get the Oilers out of this contract.
The David Backes Role:
Barring a trade (or buyout but don’t hold your breath), the best thing Edmonton can do is take a page out of the Boston Bruins book. They, like Edmonton, made a long-term commitment to a veteran free agent on July 1st, 2016. David Backes struggled through his first year in Boston, registering 17-21-38 and failing to find a true role.
After returning from injury in November, Backes has emerged as one of Boston’s most trusted players. He has 9-12-21 in 35 games, and has been playing a physical and defensive role on the team’s third line. They aren’t asking Backes to be a difference maker, they are instead placing him in a situation to succeed and as a result Backes has been a positive contributor.
Now, Backes is a better player than Lucic, but the point remains. If Edmonton can’t find a spot for Lucic elsewhere, they have to make it work with him. Next season, could Lucic work on the third line? I believe he can. If the Oilers add a few wingers this off-season, Milan could fit in on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and, say, Jujhar Khaira. It wouldn’t be an offensive unit, but it would be a responsible group with some snarl. Different linemates, obviously, but same premise as Backes’ role in Boston this season.
Growing up in Boston, Milan Lucic was arguably my favorite player to watch on the Bruins. When the Oilers signed him, I was excited and thought he’d be a good addition. A little over a season and a half later, I could not have been more wrong. Lucic has struggled through his time in Edmonton, and it is coming to a crescendo as we speak. The last 16 games have been crunch time for this Oiler group, and the man they brought in to be the veteran leader has been a no show.
For a team with cap concerns, it is imperative that Edmonton figures things out with Lucic ASAP. Either figure out a role he can be successful in, and it may take until next season, or find a way to get out from under that contract. The way things have gone this season simply cannot continue.