Fire, Brimstone and Milan Lucic

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The lack of secondary scoring from the Edmonton Oilers has been a story all season, one with many authors. Old standbys Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have earned scorn. Benoit Pouliot appears to be utterly lost. Big-name free agent acquisition Milan Lucic has been a disappointment.

Of the four of them, there isn’t any question as to which player’s poor season should be the most terrifying for the Oilers. It’s that of Lucic, who seems to be imploding at 5-on-5 just as he enters the first year of a buyout-proof forever contract.

This hasn’t gotten nearly as much coverage as it deserves, and for obvious reasons. Lucic has 31 points in 57 games, which is a perfectly reasonable number mostly in-line with his career norms. As long as that holds up, the criticism will be muted, regardless of how lethargic he looks at 5-on-5.

It isn’t news that Lucic has been essentially a power play specialist all season, or that this is out of character for him. His numbers this year are way out of whack with his career averages:

Lucic production

The blue line shows power play scoring. Most forwards fall between 2.0 and 6.0 points/hour, and as a general rule a guy scoring 4.0 points/hour is doing a good job. Lucic has never been all that good on the power play, but this year he’s having a monster season, easily the best of his career.

How good is it? In five of nine seasons prior to this one, Lucic’s scoring rate was less than half what he’s managed this year.

The orange line shorts even-strength scoring. Most forwards fall between 1.0 and 2.5 points/hour, and as a general rule a guy who can crack 2.0 points/hour is a force to be reckoned with. Lucic has long been an excellent 5-on-5 guy, topping 2.0 points/hour in five of the last six seasons. This year he’s having an awful season, easily the worst of his career.

How bad is it? In five of six seasons prior to this one, Lucic’s scoring rate was more than double what he’s managed this year.

In a nutshell: Lucic is scoring twice as much as he normally does on the power play, and half as much at even-strength. That’s exactly what happened to Dustin Brown at the same age, incidentally: His 5-on-5 scoring collapsed and his power play scoring spiked. Since then, his power play scoring has returned to previous levels while his even-strength numbers have stayed bad, turning his contract with L.A. into one of the worst in the NHL.

Still, that’s a sample of one, and should be viewed with some skepticism. Far more troubling is the way that Connor McDavid has obscured the total collapse of Lucic’s game.

I came across this tweet last night, during the intermission in the Edmonton/Arizona game. At first I shrugged; I’d seen Lucic’s lousy point totals with and without McDavid and while they were terrible I’d known that for a while. It’s been more than two months since Lucic has picked up a 5-on-5 goal and he’s mostly played on other lines, so of course the figures would be bad.

What I hadn’t realized was how badly his shot rates have deteriorated away from the Oilers’ franchise centre. It’s hard to over-stress how bad 3.3 shots/hour is.

Most people don’t spend a lot of time on shots/hour, so some context is helpful. Of the 438 forwards to get at least 200 minutes in the NHL last year, these are the five worst by shots per hour:

  • Brandon Prust: 2.45
  • Eric Nystrom: 2.78
  • Jarret Stoll: 3.21
  • Scott Gomez: 3.38
  • Paul Byron: 3.40

Lucic’s non-McDavid total is worse than 435 of the 438 forwards to spend any real time in the NHL last year. The four worst guys on that list are all out of the league now, though on a happier note Byron is having a really nice season in Montreal.

Take away McDavid, and Lucic is one of the worst shot generators in the NHL, something which hasn’t been true in the past and which speaks to not just reluctance to shoot but an inability to get into dangerous areas with the puck on his stick.

Even when Lucic does shoot, it’s from far away. Among Oilers forwards, Lucic’s average shot distance is from further out than any regular other than Pouliot, who a) has been a trainwreck this season and b) hasn’t had the luxury of having Connor McDavid boost his shot totals. Lucic’s shots are coming from 10 feet further out than McDavid’s and from three feet further out than they were a year ago in L.A.

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The Pouliot comparison is a helpful one to go back to, just because of how bad Pouliot has been this year. He has two seasons left at an average value of $4.0 million and at this point it’s not crazy to talk about a buyout. He’s been utterly ineffective offensively.

And yet, even separated from Connor McDavid, Pouliot’s lousy 0.98 points/hour and 4.2 shots/hour are fair-sized improvements on Lucic’s numbers.

Playing with McDavid a lot at 5-on-5 and posting career numbers with McDavid on the power play have concealed the extent to which Lucic’s game has crumbled from previously formidable heights this season. They won’t do it forever, and if Lucic can’t find a road back to his previous levels the next six years of his buyout-proof contract are going to be exceedingly difficult. 

RECENT POSTS

  • chickenStew

    I actually wonder if he has vision problems.

    If you watch closely, he really has trouble locating the puck when it comes to him. Those extra half seconds are a huge factor.
    Not to mention the wayward passes. He must be able to put the puck where he wants to after all this time, is it because he isn’t seeing things as he used to?

    It happens to the best of us, and sometimes a guy can be in denial about it.

  • Action Jackson

    I know it is time to pile on Lucic and Pouliot, and that there is good reason to, but I am not on board. Lucic brings the boom and Pouliot’s skating is so good that his scoring has to improve. I am waiting for the puck luck for both to even out, but maybe adjusting expectations down a bit.

  • Oil9744

    Wow talk about over analyzing, You answered your own question already about Lucic, Chiarelli never got Lucic to make fancy plays and put up lots of points even though he still is putting up decent points this season, could he do better offensively? Sure he can, but so could almost everyone on the Oilers but 3 guys, Lucic is a presence on the ice, A leader in the locker room, and one of the top hitters on the team, wait till you see him in the playoffs before as well before you make all these assumptions on him already, and your already comparing him to Pouliot!????? Wow….that’s a terrible comparison

  • Doug Weight

    Good read on Lucic. It makes me wonder and I don’t have any stats or fancy to back this up, BUT. Where has the cycle game gone?
    I found just from watching and this maybe out of line but at the start of the year the Oilers were constantly cycling the puck down low with long possessions using their heavy forwards. Outside of Connor cruising around I just have not seen that type of puck possession at all lately.

  • Hemmercules

    I would say put him back with McJesus but Maroon seems to have found a spot there, possibly for the rest of the season.

    I thought Looch was Ok last night, I mentioned before the game that I hoped he would start to step up at this point in the locker room and on the ice. He seems a little frustrated but he’s still getting line time and good line mates so its up to him to rise up.

    Tomorrows game could be a rough one, hope he comes ready to play that way.

  • freelancer

    It obviously has been a rough year for Lucic. While we had hoped when he was signed that he was going to be Connor’s LW for the next 6 years maybe we can accept that he can be Draisaitl’s instead.

    If you look at the centres Lucic has played with over his career; specifically Krejci and Kopitar we see that he plays well with bigger north south styles (I’m aware Krejci isn’t that big but it was the Boston system).

    I hate player comparables but Draisaitl plays a similar game to Kopitar. I would like to see the two of them play the remainder of the season together and see what kind of chemistry can form.

  • I also think a small part of the struggle is due to his usage by the coaching staff. We saw good Lucic last night (or at least not AS damaging) with some decent physicality and work on the boards. His strengths should be utilized effectively, which oftentimes they are not.

    I see Lucic as being the type of player to help establish and continue a cycle game, then push the puck into the slot with a crisp pass or force it to the net when d-zone coverage breaks down. CMD is a whiz-kid and is going to take advantage of ice he’s given, but you have to admit he is a rush player, no question. Lucic just simply can’t keep up, and by the time he gets to the play he is either gassed or can’t make the right decision quickly enough…

    I say give Looch, Drai and Shlip Shlappy some more run and see if they can establish a puck-protection cycle game effectively. Use their bodies, move their feet and wear down defenders.

  • McRaj

    Remember when Sekera came in last year. Everyone was worried and complaining about his contract. Funny how a year changes everything.

    Give Lucic until next season, and at least wait to see what he does in the playoffs before going completely side ways on him.

    • Sekera spent much of the season playing top competition on his off-side with a rookie partner.

      Lucic has spent much of the season playing with the second-best centre in the NHL and the Oilers’ top right-wing.

      Waiting a bit is obviously the prudent – and only possible – course, but these are not analagous situations.

  • Well these stats echo the eye-test. The man is a skating turnover machine, no wonder he can’t crack a shot off, as soon as the puck is on his stick it’s into a lost battle or on to an opposing player.

    Obviously nobody could have imagined how brutal his season would be, so I don’t lay this one on management. The thought process being that if he can be that x-factor for 3 or 4 more years that allows us to go deep in the playoffs, it’s worth the long term gamble on a 6-year deal.

    If this is the best we are going to see of Lucic, minus small flashes of brilliance (nice pass to Drai last night on the PP goal), this is going to be one of the worst, if not the worst, contract in the NHL. What a giant disappointment. One can only hope he can return to at least 75% of his old self and actually help this team win – god knows we need it right now and into the first round…

  • Spydyr

    When some of us mentioned when they signed him the last few years of his contract were going to be ugly I don’t think many felt the first few years were going to be ugly also. I hope he goes the Maroon route and drops twenty -thirty pounds in the off season and gets a bit quicker. Right now he can’t keep up with the play.