The Oilers committed to a new look, a different feel to
their roster when they traded Hall for Larsson then stepped up to acquire
Lucic. However, it’s not as simple as one LW out and another LW in to his spot.
Milan Lucic isn’t going to be replacing Taylor Hall in this lineup. At least,
not based on what we’ve heard so far.
It’s important to note that Hall was indeed Edmonton’s top
left winger and came at a cap hit of $6 million dollars per year. Milan Lucic
is now Edmonton’s top left winger and comes at a cap hit of $6 million dollars
per year. However, the two players occupy different spots on the Oiler roster.
Taylor Hall’s greatest benefit to the Oilers was that he
provided elite level scoring and he did it away from Connor McDavid. They
played and conceivably would have continued to play on separate lines, each
driving offense apart from each other except on the power play.
It would have looked something like:
Hall – XXX – YYY
XXX – McDavid – YYY
The X’s and the Y’s are all decent to very good players, but
in Edmonton we could be sure of two drivers on different lines. Hall played
exactly 74 minutes and 50 seconds at 5v5 with Connor McDavid and that’s all.
During that time Hall scored just a single goal — 47 of his 48 5v5 points came
without Connor and he had the fifth most 5v5 points in the entire NHL.
Long story short, Hall killed it and did it playing a
significant number of minutes away from a generational superstar talent.
Milan Lucic will not be occupying that same role. Lucic
came to Edmonton on the expressed promise of playing beside Connor McDavid.
Milan Lucic is going to be glued to McDavid’s hip in Edmonton and that’s
perfectly fine. He is going to add a level of physicality to that line that
should basically wreak havoc on the opposition like Shock and Awe tactics on
the battlefield. I’m just going to call that line Thunder and Lightning™ until
you guys beg me to stop. McDavid is going to give teams fits with his speed and
brilliance, and when they’re left in complete and total confusion because all
they saw was a streak of blue light and the back of McDavid’s jersey, then Lucic is going to grind them into hamburger.
Scary. Exciting. I have to wait 30 minutes before swimming
after even thinking about it.
But that brings us right back to Hall’s replacement. It isn’t
Lucic. If Milan is playing with McDavid then the person replacing Hall is
someone else who is now expected to contribute offensively on the port-side of
another line. Right now, that replacement for Hall is either Pouliot or Maroon.
I would say at this moment that unequivocally the next best
LW on the club is Benoit Pouliot, but as it doesn’t feel like Chiarelli is done
making changes, I don’t know if Pouliot will be here in the Fall. I expect
Maroon will be because that was a Chiarelli acquisition and a pretty good one
based on cost, production, and salary. So who steps up to take on Hall’s spot
on this roster is most definitely not set.
Pouliot brings a lot to the table. His entire career has
basically been spent as a positive possession player and a 5v5 scorer who adds
top six level offense (on a per 60 basis). Over the last four seasons (2012-2016)
Benoit Pouliot is second on the roster in Points per 60 minutes with
1.98 P/60. That’s virtually identical to Jordan Eberle, who is lower by less
than hundredth of a point per hour. Over that same four year stretch, Pouliot also
has the second highest shot attempts for percentage, relative to
teammates. The puck goes in the right direction a lot when Pouliot plays and it
finds the back of the net a fair amount too.
Now Pouliot isn’t perfect. Despite his considerable
possession numbers and scoring, he is often looked at as overpaid by media and
one wonders if that extends to management as well. He isn’t a particularly
adept power play performer. He takes penalties in the offensive zone. And he
has missed a significant number of games due to injury in his career. While
stat-heads love what Pouliot brings, there’s no denying that sentiment isn’t
Maroon brings less offense and weaker possession numbers
relative to his teammates, but they are indeed still both positive. He also
brings mammoth size and a contract that’s somehow being partially covered by
the Anaheim Ducks for the next two seasons. He fit in well with McDavid a year
ago, but that’s not going to happen moving forward if Lucic is playing on
McDavid’s line. He may still get a chance in the top six, depending on Chiarelli’s
next moves, and that’s going to put him on a line with Draisaitl or
Nugent-Hopkins. However, Maroon’s NHL career high is 34 points. He’s
going to be hard-pressed to fill the gap left by Hall.
Alternatively, replacing Hall might happen by going
completely off the board. That means maybe it’s done by signing another player
as a UFA (slim pickings there) or by doing something really crazy like playing
Yakupov on the left side of the top line. I know, even for me it’s a stretch to
think that’s something the Oilers would be comfortable with at all. Still, we
can’t entirely rule-out the possibility that Hall’s replacement on the de facto
second line isn’t one of the two obvious choices.
With more balance to the defense and the addition of Lucic, the
team should feel stronger going into next year. However, there are roughly 16
minutes of highly impactful even strength minutes per game that Hall was
playing that are unaccounted for. There is going to be a huge opportunity for
someone like Maroon or Pouliot when October rolls around, but this team needs
production from whoever ends up in that spot.