Milan Lucic is having a rough go of it right now. He can’t score. He isn’t being aggressive. He isn’t even adding much in the way of assists and it gets worse if we look for primary assists. He makes a ton of money. He’s signed for an eternity. And, as much as the coach wants to break his scoreless streak, I’m not sure that he’s particularly compatible with McDavid.
Milan Lucic is fourth in team scoring, having tied RNH at 31 points. The problem is that he hasn’t scored a goal in over two months. It was December 23rd against the Canadiens that he last snuck one by a goaltender. In the 27 games since playing the Habs, Milan Lucic has had 0 goals on 47 shots and five secondary assists while averaging 16:14 a night. And it’s not like the Oilers as a team are fine with him out there and it’s just him not scoring. The Oilers have a -9 goal differential 5v5 with Lucic on the ice since Christmas.
For reasons that are obvious, Edmonton cannot afford for Milan Lucic to be this bad. They need him to pull out of it. He makes too much money and his contract is both anchored and buyout proof. If he doesn’t bounce back and this becomes his new level, then the team has a major problem. For his part, Todd McLellan seems to be trying to get him going.
Despite the terrible play and worse outcomes, McLellan is gifting Lucic with prime ice-time. He’s still getting power play minutes. He’s still one of the extra attackers with the net empty. He’s still playing with Connor McDavid. In fact, playing with McDavid is probably the best attempt McLellan is making to cure this goalless drought.
Except playing Lucic with McDavid has never really produced fantastic results. Yes, Lucic has his best foot forward with McDavid, but at what price?
As much as every player in the NHL would love to play with someone of McDavid’s calibre, the reality is that he can’t just make everyone around him score. And even if he can help boost someone else’s scoring, it doesn’t mean that McDavid’s point production stays the same and he drags everyone up with him. McDavid only appears to be magic. He is, as far as we can tell, just human.
Lucic and McDavid were a combination that Chiarelli dreamed up and made fantasy into reality last season, but the duo was so lacklustre together that Maroon emerged as the obvious better fit with 97 very early. Chiarelli’s prize acquisition of summer 2016 was relegated to the second line almost immediately. And Lucic struggled to score 5v5 in his debut season. With McDavid, he was scoring at a meager 1.46 P/60 but without him, he was producing 1.05 P/60. In plain-speak, he was a low second liner with McDavid and a low third liner without him.
That was just his individual production. The Oilers as a whole with Lucic and McDavid paired together scored significantly fewer goals per 60 compared to McDavid without Lucic. McDavid as a whole was on the ice for 3.52 Oiler goals per 60 minutes but with Lucic that dropped to just 2.33 goals per 60 last season. So playing the two together might potentially boost Lucic’s production, but at the price of limiting total goals.
This is where the story of this 2017-2018 season for Milan Lucic reaches counter-intuitive problems. Lucic is struggling greatly and feels like a burden to his team. However, he is unquestionably a better even strength scorer than he was a year ago. Even with a 27 game stretch in which he has zero goals and just 4 assists in 5v5 play, the hulking winger has a significantly improved rate of scoring at even strength.
Now, obviously, Lucic has hit the skids post-Christmas break. He was producing solid 5v5 points right up until Christmas and now he’s fallen off a cliff. He went from 1st line production at even strength to 4th line production. Reviving his scoring ability has proven to be difficult. Still, overall this is somehow better than it had been before.
Last season over 82 games, Lucic had 23 5v5 points. Today through 63 games he has 22 5v5 points. It’s hard to conceive that despite this insane stretch, Milan has been at a much better scoring pace at even strength. Also in Lucic’s favor, unlike a year ago, the splits between his time with McDavid and without McDavid don’t show him being entirely dependent on the Captain. Lucic has a 1.56 P/60 with 97 and a 1.54 P/60 without him.
The absolute biggest negative difference between Lucic’s season a year ago and the one he’s in right now is his power play production. Just like Leon Draisaitl, Lucic has only 6 points on the man-advantage. He had 25 in 2016-2017. Half of his points came on the power play. The 31st ranked PP in the NHL is the place where Todd McLellan and company should focus their efforts if they want Lucic to break this slump.
When his 5v5 scoring was dipping during his 50 point Oiler debut, the power play was there to bail him out. Now he has nowhere to hide. There is no reprieve. He is in a very real, very deep hole with his scoring over the last 2 months but due to the fact that his team is the literal worst in the league at scoring with the man-advantage, he is backed into a corner.
Lucic is essentially producing at the same rate with 97 as he is without him right now. McLellan should not feel like he has to play 27 and 97 together for this spell to be broken. He can experiment with different combinations, especially now that the deadline has passed. The best results he has had this year came with Nuge as his centerman. Perhaps that’s what it will take to finally get the big man on the board again 5v5.
I don’t know that hampering McDavid and praying that the wunderkind can get Lucic the perfect pass is the way to go. In fact, I’m sure it isn’t. Just figure out how to make a PP with Draisaitl and McDavid on it start to work again and I think Milan’s slump, along with a handful of others, will probably come to an end.