Milan Lucic spoke candidly for 14 minutes about his recent slump. Mark Spector, Jim Matheson and I asked him poignantly about his 19-game drought, playmaking and how he plans to adjust to the always increasing speed of the game.
Lucic hasn’t scored a goal in 19 games and he’s turning the puck over far too frequently as of late. He agreed and admitted it has been a tough seven weeks.
“It has been frustrating ever since the Christmas break. I thought I had things going leading up to Christmas, and for whatever reason it has gone a complete 180 on me,” began Lucic. “I’ve had chances to tie games, put our team up by a goal and more than enough chances to score big goals to get our team back in it. It is deflating looking back at the chances I’ve had. I don’t remember the last time I had five chances in a game and didn’t score (until this slump), especially when you look at my career shooting percentage,” said Lucic.
“I’ve learned it is easy to point fingers, or try to be a coach or a GM and over analyze what everyone else is doing, but what I’ve learned is you analyze and critique yourself first and move on from there. I’ve always been my toughest critic. A lot of things have happened in the last 19 games where I could have been a factor and I didn’t bear down on the chances I had. As time goes on, and as games go on the frustration starts to build and the confidence starts to go away and at times there is a sense of doubt,” continued Lucic.
“But this is not the first time I’ve gone through this. I don’t want to makes excuses for myself, but every time I’ve come out of it (slump) I’ve always come out of it stronger. You have to start somewhere. You have to find a way to find that confidence again, and sometimes it is even as simple as a point shot goes off your shinpads and in, and all of a sudden your mindset changes and you are playing well again. You look back at the 2015/2016 season and you started off talking about Crosby. He had, what, five or so assists in the first 18 games, but then ended up second in scoring. It can happen to anyone. I know I could have helped our team over the past 19 games and I haven’t been able to come up with a big goal. It sucks.” said Lucic.
Lucic studies the game. He threw out the Crosby stat off top of his head. Crosby actually had two goals and seven assists in his first 18 games.
Outside of not scoring, Lucic has turned the puck over far too often. You can see his frustration. He has been in slumps before, but never when the team is losing or out of a playoff race. Is he more frustrated than ever before, because not only is he struggling, it is happening when the team is losing?
“Of yeah for sure. In a team sport you can get away with making mistakes, because other guys can pick you up and overcome your mistakes, but when you’re making mistakes and the team is losing it piles up into one big ball of stress and the frustration builds. As an older guy and a leader you try not to have negative body language or let the frustration get to you because you know the trickling down effect it can have, but at a certain point it gets to you.
“Sometimes you have to show some emotion and it just comes out. Ultimately it comes down to results as a team and an individual. When you are not producing, but the team is winning, you are able to get over the frustration or self doubt because it is being masked by winning and eventually your confidence catches up to the winning of the group.
“This is the first time both things are happening, and it is something I need to overcome sooner than later, hopefully tomorrow,” Lucic answered.
Lucic has been successful by producing points, but also he’s always had the element of physicality and toughness. The game is changing. Fighting is rare and the game is less physical than even three years ago. Spector asked him how can he adapt and remain effective
“You have to find a way to adjust to it. I’ve always been able to produce, use my linemates effectively and such. But there is still an element of getting in on the forecheck. Don’t get me wrong, the puck is carried into the zone more than it was when I first entered the league, but there is still a focus on getting the puck behind the defence and making the D go back and retrieve the puck. Now it is more about being on your toes and being first on the puck.
“Back when I started, it was more about banging, shoulder on shoulder, crashing, but now a lot of it is stick on puck, chip it, turn your back and go the other way. For me it is more about being on your toes and anticipating, and a lot of that comes with confidence. I was producing early in the year, but now I’m not. I have to change that,” said Lucic.
Lucic had 26 points in the first 36 games and 24 of them came at even strength. He was on pace for 59 points. He had a good start, and looked to be getting better in December when he produced ten points in ten games prior to Christmas. But since then he’s been more of a liability than an asset.
CAN HE KEEP UP?
The game is getting faster all the time. How can Lucic make sure he doesn’t become one of the veterans who can’t keep up?
“It is a tough question to answer, because I don’t know what I will be like in four years, or what the league will look like, but it is up to me to do anything I can to get faster. That is more so on the off-ice part of it, than the on-ice part of it.
“I have to get lighter. I’m naturally a big-boned person. When we were in LA we used to do the Dexa scan and they’d give you your bone mass and all that stuff. A regular bone mass is eight pounds for an athlete and I was eleven. That is just my natural build.
“I’ve been changing my diet. I’ve felt my legs were going at the start of the season, but this next summer, no, starting right now I have to start working on things to ensure I can continue to produce at a high level,”Lucic said.
Lucic is a big man. He’ll never be small, and he’s always been in good shape, but he admitted he has to get lighter.
“When I weighed in at training camp I was 236 pounds. I’m now 238. I need to get down to 225 next year. It is just a matter of will and wanting to. I have always been in good shape, but I’ll have to come in lighter,” said Lucic.
We saw Patrick Maroon drop over 25 pounds, although he wasn’t in as good a shape as Lucic when he started to trim down. Both are naturally big men, and weight is just a number. There is more to health and athletics than just the number on the scale, but Lucic will need to get quicker. I don’t see him as slow, but his first step needs to improve as the game gets faster.
Outside of not scoring he’s struggled at handling the puck and making plays lately. Lucic has always been a player who sees the ice well. He’s more of a cerebral player than people think, but lately his passing skills have not been good enough. I’m sure confidence plays into that, but I also asked him bout a skills coach. Many players have hired them the past few summers. Will he look at that?
“I feel like once you start getting all these coaches and all these people around, there are too many voices in your head, at least for me. I’ve always found pushing and moving the puck and making a play when you see it has been a strength of my mind. I don’t need to be working on toe drags and such (laughs), I won’t be able to do that.”
Agreed, but skills coaches are more than just toe drags, I replied. Even three years ago, very few players stepped on the ice in June and July. They focused on off-ice training, but the past few summers that has changed. More players are honing their on-ice skills and spending more time on the ice. Lucic had this to say about summer on-ice drills.
“It is happening, especially out in Toronto and you have cameras filming guys and what they are doing. But in LA we were on the ice for six weeks, usually four days a week and sometimes five days. I did work on that. It wasn’t just shinny. We worked on drills, getting on our edges and for me I’ll continue to do that,” said Lucic.