Photo Credit: © John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Is playing Lucic with McDavid even helping?

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.

Dec 23, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic (27) celebrates a second period goal against the Montreal Canadiens at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.

  • Leo Tard

    Lucic’s problems begin and end with the coach. The coach has told him not to take penalties and he is not. Thus he has lost his aggressiveness and is not sticking up for his teammates. It is my belief this coach has become delusional. His systems dont work, his special teams dont work, and he continues giving ice time to players that do not deserve it. Some of the blame should be shouldered by Lucic, but Lucic cannot be held responsible for following what the coach says he must follow.

    • Marlees

      Agree. After last nights game a reporter asked Lucic about why no retribution on the Benning hit…Lucic sheepishly replied, ‘we just have to make sure we’re responding the right way.’ That is not a typical Lucic response. #brainwash

      • the dope $teez

        Yea I love the shot of Lucic yelling at the bench. The guy is the last person that should be yelling at the bench with his inability to make any type of successful play. With him on the ice the Oilers are basically playing shorthanded – even worse I think he’s completed more successful passes to the opposing team than he has to his linemates.

        Can’t score, won’t engage physically, he’s turnover machine and he’s the guy yelling at the guys to get moving? If I’m sitting on that bench I’m pissed that not only is this guy dragging the team down, but he’s yelling at me to play harder.

        What a gong show this organization is, from the top down.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      You may have something there Leo?
      Because in last night’s game when Benning got nailed by Kane into the boards just before the tying goal.
      Lucic had absolutely nothing to say about it, even in the shifts following?
      He was absolutely invisible. That’s not the Lucic that Chiarelli thought he was getting when he was picked up?
      Either Lucic has given up and mailed it in, or you are right about the coaching.
      He isn’t effective when he doesn’t play with an edge. I don’t think Looch is the kind of player to coast?

    • Odanada

      TM is covering his butt in that the PK is so damned awful, penalties result in goals. Since TM won’t change special teams coaches, he has to stress “no penalties.”
      There’s some kind of poison in that room. Have the players turned on TM????

    • jultz=2cups!??

      How do you know what the coach has told him?? ????. You guys are hilarious! Did a city worker tell you that’s what’s happening? Fairweather oilersnation! ??

  • OilersBro

    Milan Lucic was not considered in a slump until RNH was injured. Lucic has shown consistent success with 93 and will be able to play with him next year. However, for someone making as much money as he is, he needs to be more versatile and able to play with more than one center

        • jultz=2cups!??

          You guys are the whiners. Throwing hissy fits about things that are completely out of your control. ???. The name of this site should be fairweather oilersnation.

          • crabman

            @Jultz, how can you come on here and call anybody a fairweather fan when they still devote time and energy to watch the games. Read the articles and come and discuss them here. A fairweather fan or a bandwagon jumper would have been long gone. Most people here have stuck with team through the DOD and still support them now. There is nothing wrong or unexpected with people being frustrated with the team, decisions it made and the way they are playing. people are upset because we love and are passionate about this team and feel helpless to be able to change things ffor the better.

          • McDavid's Comet

            ???lol, son stop whining about it. There are other forums you can join that might be more to you liking. ??? Do you realize you whine more than anyone here? Lol ???

  • Old school

    For the love of god the Oilers need a real coach .. TM is not capable of coaching an NHL team .. oh yes ..the great record with the Sharks .. the best team in the NHL for a decade that never won anything .. he can’t adapt quickly enough against the other coaches in this league.. he’s out of his league

  • Big Jacks Meat

    i still believe in looch. for a couple years. the man has too much pride to go down like this. this year is done, go into summer , push your butt harder than ever , get pissed off and be the looch we know. for 2 years and ill be happy.

    IN MILAN I BELEIVE. he is too dedicated to cave into this. body chem is changeable. DO IT , you don’t need to scrap every single night. Come on looch.
    I’m still with you , don’t care how many are not. They gave you the dollars, none of us here did. do it.

  • RJ

    I don’t believe in Lucic.

    I don’t know if it was the Athletic or Lowetide or another site, but the player who dominated in the 2011 playoffs is gone.

    They had some stat that tracked physical contact and Lucic’s stats have been steadily declining in this regard. He’s not the power forward who dominated the Canucks.

    They also tracked his goal locations over time. On the plus side, his goals from outside this season are on par with his best seasons. What has vanished are the number of dirty goals he has scored. He’s not getting to the hard areas of the ice as much, and that’s where a guy with his size and strength should dominate.

    As it relates to this discussion, I think the answer should be obvious. Lucic needs to play with a ton of OZ starts where his lack of speed don’t hurt him. He needs to get to the net and wreak havoc.

    But two questions come up for me. Is he willing to pay the price anymore? Eberle was hammered his last few seasons for playing a perimeter game. He was seen as soft. The way Lucic is playing invites those same questions.

    The second question revolves around style. McDavids defining skill is his ability to skate faster than anyone else and make plays at top speed. Is he really best served playing with a guy who can’t keep up with him? Lucic is better suited to a more methodical puck possession game like with Nuge. McDavid needs someone who can skate with him. Since they’ve tried everyone else, either Nuge or Aberg should get a shot.

  • I don’t care if the head coach says not to take penalties the hockey player in you should go after Kane. No brainer it should have been Lucic. This might get him out of the funk he is in as much as a goal.

    Free agents see this and make Edmonton pay top dollar for their services. Just saw a interview with pacioretty and loved it. The character makes me think he is a good bet.

    • jultz=2cups!??

      It could have been anyone on the team. Why does it “have” to be Lucic. You guys are ridiculous. Fairweather oilersnation. ??. When the oilers are better next year and Lucic is producing, you guys shouldn’t be able to cheer for him. Fairweather oilersnation. ???

  • Oiler Al

    Lucicis not helping himself and he is certainly not helping McDavid.The NHL has sped ahead and the big guy is eating dust. What is concerning is how he cannot handle the puck, both in passing and recieving passes.

  • Soccer Steve

    “He makes too much money and his contract is both anchored and buyout proof.”

    If I did an equivalent thing at my work and it subsequently blew up in my face I would get fired.

    • MrBung

      Yep. Chia should be fired for that deal alone. Throw the Reinhart, Hall and Eberle deals and he should be fired effective immediately. He is the worst GM in the league.

  • RJ

    Listening to 1260. They asked Craig Button the same question. His response?

    Buy him out. He’s at the age where he’s not going to get better. He’s not going to get faster. He is just going to deteriorate.

    The only question Button had was whether you do it this off-season, or next off-season.

    Figured it was worth mentioning.

    • Leo Tard

      NMC. Means exactly that. Cannot be moved. Period. Not to the minors, not to red deer, not even to Beaumont….you could sit him or buy him out. That is the options….

  • Arfguy

    FFS! No more Lucic on McDavid’s wing.

    Lucic is too slow, can’t react fast enough and can’t handle the puck. He basically needs layups now and even then, there is no guarantee that he’ll be able to finish (as evidenced by the gaping net in the Nashville game recently).

    McDavid needs someone fast and intelligent. At this point, I don’t see any harm in putting someone like Aberg on his left wing. No guarantee that Aberg will be a better fit than Lucic, but at least you can’t question who is a better skater.

    My solution? Put Lucic on Leon Draisaitl’s left wing. Lucic on left wing, with Draisaitl at centre and Jesse Puljujarvi on the right wing. My reasoning? Jesse used to have a fantastic shot, but he hasn’t turned into the sniper that he was thought to be. Draisaitl is the best pure passer on the Oilers. Draisaitl sees the ice with such clarity and finds the open man so well, that it should be obvious to anyone. If players like Lucic and Puljujarvi needs basically an open net to score these days, your best chance at that is someone who sees the ice well, finds the open man and can place a great pass.

    You want Lucic to start scoring? Pair him with Draisaitl at centre! Do that and don’t change it up after 4 shifts!