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Photo Credit: © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Lucic discusses his slump

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?

Jan 20, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic (27) and Vancouver Canucks forward Markus Granlund (60) battle for a loose puck during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

    • KPUZ

      Agree, PC needs to be fired immediately. He devastated the Bruins for possibly the worst trade in league history. In the process of doing the same to the Oilers as we currently have lost Hall for Lucic and Smid, I mean Larsson. Eberle for Strome, Reinhart for 16 pick (Barzal) and 33rd overall pick. Please name a trade that Oiler’s PC have not got fleeced on? Talbot arguably but he is proving himself to be a career backup and last year was an aberration. Can hardly wait to see what magic beans we get for Maroon?

  • PleaseWinOilers

    The slump doesn’t even bother me that much so much as the lack of leadership and muscle he’s shown since Christmas. I don’t expect the guy to put up impressive numbers because he was partially brought in as an experienced tough guy and he’s been anything but the past 2 months. Players constantly go through slumps but he’s become something of a detriment to the roster and very quickly at that. He seems like a good enough guy but when you’re getting paid 6 million and not scoring you better be beating other guys up or flexing your muscle.

    • LAKID

      Agreed but Lucic isn’t up to the play to confront anyone and they are talking about trading Maroon and Kassian WTF? Who has stuck up for the players this season?

      • PleaseWinOilers

        I’m not really in love with Kassian this season either. Too often a ghost on the ice. Lucic unfortunately has a basically unmoveable contract and I don’t forsee the GM wanting to move him anyway.

          • BringitbacklikeSlats

            I think TMac has had Kassian in the doghouse all year and it’s taken its toll. After his playoff performance last year he should have been given a longer leash and way more looks in the top 6 than he’s had. He’s a player that needs to be involved emotionally and the only way to do that is to play more than 8minutes a night.

            One other thing. Why does nobody mention the dirty knee run Kessler took at Connor last week? In a lost season, that CANNOT happen. Argue for not taking a penalty in a playoff race but that is clearly no longer the case.
            Somebody better make that Weasel pay and Getzlaf while we’re at it for what he did to Sekera. You make a statement while we can this year that there is zero tolerance for dirt plays on 97

  • Oiler Al

    e plays a better game in all areas[ ok maybe not passing the puck],when he comes out banging and really gets involved in the game.Lately he has just been cruising around.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    The problem with Lucic is Chia paid him 1st line money, but he is not a 1st line player. His contract was bad the second he couldn’t play on McDavey’s line.

  • Natejax97

    Slump this…not playing well that…poor penalty kill…

    Know what I want. Pick 4 lines and stick with them for a 6 game stretch…just once for crying out loud.

    Put Pulijarvi and Maroon with McDavid and leave it alone.

    Put Lucic and Slepy (or whoever) with Draisaitl, and leave it alone.

    Try it for an extended period of time.

    It is no wonder nobody can get any consistent chemistry on this hockey team. Good teams get consistent line combinations that only change temporarily or for injuries. Learn a lesson already. Set your lines it’s been 3 years Todd.

  • puckle-head

    I am a huge critic Lucic’s contract, and not a huge fan of the type of game he plays, but I do believe he’s taken probably more flak than he deserves this year. He’s still fourth on the team in points, and I don’t think his time being a useful player is done.

    That said, I think this season is a harbinger of things to come. Given his too-long, too-generous, NMC laden contract, his age, and the style of game he plays, Lucic will be under a microscope the entire time he is here. He is already overpaid, but his contract isn’t true deadweight quite yet because right now the team would be worse if they were to not play him. But he will be under close scrutiny as Oilers fans eye his production, calculate how much more overpaid he gets year by year, and worry that the day will come when he can no longer keep up and the Oilers would theoretically improve by scratching him every night. Hopefully it doesn’t happen during his time in Edmonton, but these years are going to be frustrating for both Lucic and the fan base.

    • nijames

      Unfortunately Lucic is not a good enough skater to play in the NHL. He will still get points playing with the best player in the NHL just by being on the ice with him but he is no longer an NHL calibre player. Don’t need big men who can’t skate and handle the puck anymore. The cycling game is gone and Lucic was good at standing in one spot playing that game but once you have to move the feet he is too far behind

  • KMA

    Chia is a certified idiot for signing Lucic. You cannot say he has hockey sense after a blunder like that.

    For his part Lucic will claim he did not sign here for the money. The fact of the matter is it was all about the money.

    And still know remedial action taken by the so-called brain-trust of the Oil. How f’ing pathetic. It is no wonder fans show little respect for this amateur outfit.

  • What puzzles me is that Lucic is not a fit on this team at this time. IMO he is the worst heavy winger out of the three we play every night. He needs to play on a high possession team and can’t keep up to the counter attacking game we play.

    You would think he would be a great fit on the power play in front of the net? I keep seeing Drake in this spot and don’t understand it. Looch is made for this spot. We won’t be the right team for him till the back end is sorted out and that is a broken record with this club.

    • Zed

      Yeah I agree with that, he just looks lost, Doesn’t have a role really it’s almost like he’s just filling that 2nd line slot. Other teams are taking notice on how he is a liability with the puck. He hasn’t always been like that it’s just badly under the microscope now. Needs to simplify. Forget this year and restart cause that buyout will occur sooner than later if he can’t get back to his game.

  • toprightcorner

    If Lucic focuses on his explosiveness and puck handling skills, he will have a bounce back season. The training focus has to change for average skaters and the league play got faster so quick that it is hard to react.

  • toprightcorner

    The way the league plays can change so fast. 2 years ago, average skating was fine because size and strength is how teams played. PIT first cup 2 years ago with a smaller, quick and highly skilled team team changed the landscape of how teams are playing now. The same happened when NJ won the cup playing the trap, the league played that way for 10 years. The LAK won the cup being big and that was the focus of teams for 6-7 years.

    Speed and skill is the new way so players need to get quicker and if they are limited in that, they have to improve their puck skill and better anticipate the play. If Lucic can anticipate the play and use the speed of his line mates, he will be fine. How he has played and trained in the past just doesnt work anymore but he has the skill to adapt, he just needs to accept it.

  • toprightcorner

    The Oilers have a lot of good skaters on the team and only a few slow players, but they have to play a faster style and the slow players have to adapt. The team plays at a sower tempo this year than last year but they don’t have more slower players

    You don’t have to be a fast skater to play a quick tempo game, you just can’t skate with the puck and you have to anticipate the play faster. Anders Lee, Jordan Stall, Ferland, Vanek, Perron and JVR are all average skaters at best, but the speed of their play goes through their linemates and they anticipate where the play and the puck is going to be.

    In the past Lucic has been the guy that gets the puck in the neutral zone , makes the play/pass to enter the zone and then tries to forcheck, he can’t skate out of trouble in the neutral zone so when he gets pressured in the neutral zone, which teams do now instead of trap, he rushes and makes a bad pass because he can’t skate with the puck. He needs to let a speedy linemate control the puck in the neutral zone and either carry it in or pass it in. He can accept the pass in because his feet are moving. Then he needs to get to the front of the net or to the corners where the play comes to him, instead of him starting the play.

    To do this, when he starts to exit the zone, he should not be cutting across the ice for the break out pass like he does, he either needs to hold back a bit for a secondary break out pass where he still has an option to pass back to the dman if pressured, or he needs to go straight up the boards for a pass entering the zone or so he can follow in the zone entry with speed. Most of his giveaway passes come when he is standing on his side of center heading the breakout. The coaches need to work with him as well, but that is something you have to work on now but the real change comes in the offseason.

  • Natti_89

    You know, good for Looch for coming out and asking very direct questions and answering them professionally. He knows what he needs to work on and what the club needs to work on. You guys, that whole dressing room is in a funk . We have a unique player who wants to be in Edmonton and is valuable to this team (all most people see is contract and really, what happens when he drops 20lbs and is playing quicker and making passes and scoring?). I wish people stop living in the now and think about the future. Be positive . Looch will bounce back, as well as this team. Maybe not this season but hopefully they can at least go down putting in an honest effort

  • hagar

    It’s funny how much of sports interviews are asking questions you and everyone know the answers to. I get it and am not saying they shouldn’t be asked, it’s just a weird kind of formality that we are used to.

    Like asking a player what they have to do to increase their scoring, and they answer (I have to concentrate on capitalizing on more of my scoring chances.)

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Should be very interesting, once you’ve lost your wheels you don’t last long in the nhl. Glenn Anderson was one of my favorite Oilers. It even happened to hi. 5 more years of trying to put a square peg in a round hole, to find another gear.

  • Disappointed

    What I am afraid of is his frustration will end up having him crush someone into the board illegally and that someone will have to be scraped up off the ice.

  • Kr55

    He has to get lighter, and definitely get a skills coach. And he really should look at getting a wider stick blade. He’s lost a lot of pucks bouncing over his stick even though he made contact this year. He so can’t get his stick on a tip to save his life. Whatever advantage you can get, should go for it. Copy Drai’s stick.

    Coaches also need to better define a role for him. He simply can’t play with McDavid where skills on the rush are a must, he is just not good at quickly reacting to things like you need to with a McDavid. He needs to be on a line that focuses on slowing things down and cycling more.

    • Big Nuggets

      Yeah I hope he doesn’t neglect the skills training. Just because he won’t be pulling off toe-drags doesn’t mean he can’t improve. Also, if he losses 10 pounds and does proper training he could stay rellevant. I hope.

      • Kr55

        Yeah, I don’t know what he’s trying to prove with that comment. Only a handful of NHLers are so elite that they couldn’t improve with some help. His puck protection has been pretty terrible this year IMO. He is losing pucks along the boards a lot. I’m sure someone like Adam Oates would give him a slap and hand him a stick with a bigger blade and it could help him. Also some better moves to win those pucks along the boards. I’m actually shocked personally at how bad Lucic is at winning puck battles, he looks like he’s playing with a rubber stick out there half the time.

        Anyways, he is gonna be going 100 kmph into the lost cause category if he really thinks he is above any help with skills work.

  • camdog

    Lucic 4th in hits by forward. Oilers first in league in hits. I like a good physical team, but I don’t see the Oilers intimidating the other team chasing hits. I do however see some of our players making mistakes when they are tired and behind in the play.

    • nijames

      You sound like the Oilers television crew, they talk about leading the league in hits, not sure how that translates into points in the standings. Oh wait it doesn’t! Gets you a solid bottom 5 spot in the league. Don’t fricking care how many hits they have, score some goals and win some games. If they had zero hits and won 7-5 on Monday I would have been happy.

  • McPoilers

    For all the talk about Lucic’s contract being unmovable, looking at CapFriendly it does seem like Lucic’s No Movement Clause turns in to a Modified No Trade Clause in June 2021, where he can be asked to submit a list of 8 teams he can be traded to.This list can then be extended to 10 teams the year after. So if I understand this correctly the Oilers could potentially trade Lucic when he has 2 years left of his contract, given that anyone would want him at that point of course.

  • Slipknot 8

    Lucic is a Cap killer with his best years behind him……
    Further to that, making himself lighter wont make that much faster, not to mention it also wont make himself smarter..
    I will say this, from the offensive blue line in Lucic is good, his 5×5 states proves this, but from the blue line back to his own zone he’s a bloody train wreck, I’m not sure who throws more blind passes, Lucic or Russell…..I’m going with Lucic but Russell has to be a close second.