Photo Credit: © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Fall and Rise(?) of Milan Lucic

Milan Lucic now sits with five points and no goals in 2018. Taylor Hall, meanwhile, has the entire league thinking “Hart” as they admire his cannonball style and 25-game point scoring streak.

If you’ve been watching with disgust at the steady bleed of talent from the Oilers roster, seeing this particular turn of events is somewhat cathartic. Understandable! It’s like the entire damn universe is trolling Reptile Charlie.

Bad Newsh Bearsh (Walter Matthau)

Unfortunately, what’s good for the soul is most definitely not good for the Edmonton Oilers.

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Reality: though stranger things have happened, it’s damn unlikely we’ll see Taylor Hall in an Oilers uniform ever again.

Reality: though worse contracts have been disappeared, it’s damn unlikely we’ll see Milan Lucic in any uniform other than an Oilers uniform.

So cheer for Taylor Hall all you want, but as an Oilers fan, if you’re enjoying this state of affairs with Looch’s struggles, it is basically poking yourself in the metaphoric eye with a stick.

The Whys and Hows

But why, why is Looch struggling like this?

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Theories abound.

It’s his weight. He’s just too big and slow.

Or it’s his playing style. The cliff comes early for big physical players, and Looch has a LOT of hard miles on his frame.

It’s the league. It’s gotten too fast for lumbering behemoths like Lucic.

Or it’s him. Some people claim he’s been this bad all along.

And to all of these, I say no. Especially that last one, it’s really just kinda dumb.

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I mean hey, yes, Looch is not fast, and he looks like a turtle watching F1 when he’s on the ice with McDavid. But he’s always been this speed, and it hasn’t stopped him from being effective.

As for the career cliff, well, I’ll argue in the next section why I think that doesn’t hold water.

The last one, like I said, that’s just dumb. If your argument is that he’s had 750 games of mostly first and second line quality games, and it’s only the last 30 games or so where he’s been exposed as the charlatan he is, well, put down that bong dude, you’ve had enough!

Good Newsh Bearsh

So why don’t I believe the weight, or the cliff, or the league arguments? Because of this:

“This” is the chart of Lucic’s Game Score this season (chart uses a 5 game rolling average, and is adapted from corsica.hockey).

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Game score is a statistic created by Looch as a simple way of blending a bunch of key statistics (heavily weighted to points, but includes things like shots, faceoffs, and penalties) to come up with a single game player statistic. It’s not a perfect statistic, but it does meet both the statistical sniff test and the real world sniff test as a reasonable way of measuring single game productivity.

You can read more about it here. Oh yeah, maybe I should also mention that “Looch” in this case is not Milan, it is Dom Luszczyszyn. But I’m sure you already knew that 😀

So … as I was saying … take a look at that chart and you’ll see clearly that Looch remained a reasonably effective player up until Xmas.

Then the wheels fell off. That’s when his goalless streak started.

If he fell off a cliff at Christmas, that does not suggest the problem is that he came into camp too heavy.

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The league did not miraculously change to emphasize speed over the Christmas break.

And it does not suggest that the cliff has arrived for his career. Cliffs don’t arrive in the span of a week, they just don’t.

Yeah, But Why

So, we may not agree on what that cliff means, but we can agree that there is a cliff there! So why did the cliff arrive then?

Well, a few possibilities. It could be a garden variety slump. A really big garden though. The Butchart Garden Slump.

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It could be an injury. It could even be a chronic injury (I’ve heard rumours of a back problem). That *last* one would be very bad news indeed.

As for a slump, as nasty as it is, I think it’s interesting to look at the same chart for last season:

I saw that and I went what on Earth is going on?

A nasty slump, once again arriving early in the New Year, and lasting far longer than you’d expect.

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Like, what happens around then? Does Looch go to a turkey farm to pick out a Xmas turkey and then can’t resist eating every damn one? Does he go on a New Years bender that is so legendary that it causes a two month hangover?

Not Done

I don’t know. Really, only Looch, his doctor, and your chosen deity might know the answer.

I do think, though, that I am not yet prepared to close the book on Looch.

While his untradeable and unbuyoutable contract sets new standards in self-harm, that’s on Pistol Pete, not on Lucic. And it’s still mostly the last few years of the contract that are the problem.

I think Looch is going to pull out of this tailspin, and show us that he’s got a couple of effective years left.

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Prove me right Milan, I dare ya. Heck, I DOUBLE DARE ya!

  • RJ

    I was looking forward to a discussion around dangerous fenwick and his shot distribution. I’ve seen it elsewhere but the goal he scored last night was not a typical goal for him. He is predominantly a scorer of greasy goals.

      • RJ

        The author writes a lot about shot quality, location and “dangerous fenwick”, so that’s what I expected to see today.

        I have seen it written elsewhere, but the vast majority of Lucic’s goals are in the area around the crease. Not surprisingly his shots from that area are greatly reduced this season.

        Had Lucic been built like Eberle, there would be calls for him to quit playing soft and go to the hard areas of the ice.

    • IRONman

      Heavy players are still needed. Look at the Ducks in playoffs, they will grind down smaller players and injuries happen. Look at getzlaf, big heavy and yet still scores. Lucic needs to get his mind set. He has frustrated and beating himself. I like how he said to reports I don’t read what u write. Lol

      • Funny that most of the Stanley Cup champions of the last 10 years have not been heavy teams, at all.

        Or that the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the best teams AND smallest teams in the league this year, are 1-1 vs ANA, 2-0 vs SJS, and 2-0 vs LAK.

        It’s almost like size is a red herring, and it’s skill at the game of hockey that matters.

    • Ha ha, I may still look at that at some point. While I’ve stopped doing my detailed statistical breakdowns for games, I still have my analytical toolkit running. Certainly, a big part of Looch’s reduced effectiveness is a lack of going to the greasy areas of the ice.

      That said, there’s “reduced” effectiveness (which would be normal given his age and wear and tear), and then there’s whatever that 27 game drought was.

  • Kr55

    I think his comment earlier this year that he thinks he needs to lose 15 lbs is pretty telling. His whole career he has probably felt his ideal body shape is like a football player. A huge built upper body to take/give hits. Coincidentally he trained with a football player all last summer, and came in with his usually body shape, basically an upside down triangle. Huge upper body. Now that the game is speeding up and Dmen are getting so strong and so good with their sticks, he’s ended up playing a bit like a football player would in the NHL. he is turning into a guy that can only score off the rush (a situation his speed rarely can get him in a good situation to produce in) more than battling off the boards and around the net. He has 0 ES goals this year from taking actual shots around the net. He has 5 ES goals from ~35-40 ft out. He’s just too easy to push off pucks this year. He’s big, but not very stable in puck battles.

    He needs to totally change it up now. Lose some of that upper body mass, and move what’s left down and work on skating and a lower center of gravity. It’s not going to be easy, but he just has to try to do it if he wants to stay relevant. He also badly needs a stick skills coach to help him work on his board battles.

    • I think that becomes the narrative post facto to try and explain something he can’t otherwise explain.

      If his offseason training was truly the problem, he would have been ineffective from the get go. It’s the spectacular fall off since Xmas that is the real issue. If he was playing the same way he was the first part of the season, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and Looch wouldn’t be speculating about his offseason training.

      That’s not to say his offseason training was or wasn’t effective, or could or couldn’t use improvement, just that using problematic offseason training as the explanation for this season is not consistent with how the season has gone.

      • Kr55

        I would say the main dif for him between the start of the year and since December has been his play situation and a reversal of luck. He wasn’t actually creating that much at the start of the year, but everything seemed to be going in for him and Nuge. The Lucic-McDavid-Pulju line did work for a bit after that, but that was only a small sample size. Luck reversed and McLellan decided to keep sending him out there against top defenders which, IMO, he is ill equiped to handle. Dmen just have too good of sticks these days for Lucic. It’s way too easy to get the puck off his stick, especially against the best of the best. He should have been dropped down the lineup long ago, but McLellan kept the pressure on him and let it turn into something basically frustrating and embarrassing, getting all those undeserved top line minutes.

      • btrain

        I think this is somewhat of a created narrative more than an actual problem. Its become a growing trend, especially for the Oilers, for media & fans alike to hyper focus on certain details and miss the bigger picture. Its like a nickname that someone coins and is eventually adopted by everyone. Its hard to ignore it. Last year, an example was the one-timer. Everyone overanalyzed the hell out of Eberle for his dusting of the puck and inability to one-time. Remenda, Rishaug, Spector, brought it up over and over again as if it was this black and white detail in Eberle’s game that needed to be fixed despite having a knack for scoring his entire career. Then the HNIC/TSN guys come to town, piggy back the local media themes, and perpetuate the narrative further to a larger audience (also contributes to a plummeting market value). Fast-forward a year and Eberle is up to 23 goals with 15 games to play. How many of those goals have been one-timers? very few if any. In fact, his goals look similar to how they have always been. Reality is, there are maybe 3 or 4 forwards in the entire league that regularly score via the one-timer. This fact was absolutely ignored last season and a false problem, the dust off problem, emerged as a constant topic.

        I see the same thing happening to Lucic by a media that is obsessed with the speed narrative in todays game. Its easy to see slowness in Lucic’s game if that is what you want to focus on. However, we witnessed the same player fly up the boards fast enough, that it created enough space to blast a puck through the tender last night. Looking at some of the top scorers this season, there are many guys who I wouldn’t necessarily associate with being flat out fast (i.e. Wheeler, Ovechkin, E. Stall, Kopitar, Tavares, Stone, Draisaitl, Perron, Benn, etc). These are men who make up for speed with skill, determination, sometimes patients, and an ability to protect the puck. Speed is a huge bonus if the talent is not also there, but on its own, its receiving way too much attention this season.

    • Hemmercules

      Agreed. You know it ain’t going away though. Especially with the Oil out of the show and Hall lighting it up. I was hoping last year would silence it but a return to the basement this season has everyone looking back at what could have been.

    • People will shut up about Taylor Hall when the inexecrable management team that made those and similarly horrifying trades are no longer running the team.

      Until then, it remains highly relevant. And for the same reason, Milan Lucic, however unfairly, will remain linked with Hall the entire remainder of his career.

      And if you think that article was about Taylor Hall, then perhaps you should read past the first paragraph.

  • OilersBro

    Power forwards stay relevant in the game as they age more than speedy forwards.
    I don’t think it’s out of question to say Lucic will score 40+ points per season for his next 5 years as an Oiler.
    His even strength scoring is at the same pace as last year and if you watch him play, he’s faster this year than last year. Lucic came into this year’s training camp down 5 pounds and will work to reinvent himself in the offseason. Keep in mind that his body fat % is actually on par with the rest of the league average’s.

    He’s also top 3 in hits and McDavid has not had an injury since he joined the team.
    I may get trashed for this but I think $6MM for that is worth it, but in an ideal world the term would be for 5 years and not 7.

    • Study of player aging curves suggests the exact opposite – that players who play a physical game age (decline) faster and leave the game sooner than high skill players who don’t play a physical game.

      You may be right about the speed issue though – for the same reason that physical players decline faster, it is certainly possible that players who rely on speed as a key component of their game also may decline in effectiveness in conjunction with the decline in their speed, which happens in the late 20s and gets quite steep after that.

      I don’t think anyone has studied aging curves for high speed players the way they’ve looked at aging curves for physical players.

    • Frank Rizza

      Holy f***! Some common sense. It’s a bad slump no doubt but he’ll bounce back. I too am one who thinks that he’s worth every penny. If for no other reason than the amount of NHL players who check their skate laces when he’s on the ice.

  • GK1980

    One goal and he is now a hero? I’m no Lucic hater, he can still serve a role on this team but the coach will need to figure that out. Biggest thing I notice is that he is slow of hands and decision making. He needs to think quicker and move the puck quicker.

  • hammer313

    Nope, I did not like his play watching 20 games in, last year. Sure, he is no ballet skater out there, for me it was other things, his passing, his defensive zone play and on ice desire. All very poor, couple that with his desire to not get involved in physical play, he is what you see and the Oilers will suffer for ever more. Keep him on the 1st line and they deserve every loss they accumulate and every year that passes, without a playoff birth. Yes, every 20 games he may score, because every once in awhile a blind squirrel even finds an acorn!

  • TKB2677

    The people who will never shut up about Hall are the ones that live in a dream world.

    I was a Hall fan. Before McDavid, he was my favorite player. I had a Hall T-shirt and I have a Hall jersey that I keep in a box now. When the trade happened, I thought they needed to get more. But as the years have gone by and I have had time to think about him as an Oiler and I have read and listened listened to everything he has said since leaving the Oilers, the shine has come off of him for me. He’s still a good player but here is what I see of him now.

    Taking this season out which will be a career year, his last 2 seasons as an Oiler and first as a Devil, he was a 60-65 pt player, who’s career high was 27 goals. The Oilers when he was on the team were a bad team but he never elevated that team ONCE. Not once. This season, he is having a hart type season and is outscoring the next guy on the Devils by 31 pts right now. In all the years he was with the Oilers, he never ONCE had a hart type season and never grossly outscored any other Oiler like that. WHY? If anything the Oilers teams had more offensive talent around Hall than the Devils do to help him, yet he didn’t put up numbers or play like he is this year. WHY? Then I hear that until he moved to the Devils, he didn’t listen to what the coaches said at all. Now part of that would be immaturity but part of that is him being a selfish, no it all, a-hole. In what job does a young person not listen to his freaking boss? I can maybe excuse a cocky 18 or 19 yr old but when you are 23 yrs old, been in the league for 5 years and you still don’t listen to your coaches? Are you for real!! Hall was the Oilers best player until McDavid came and if your best player just rolls his eyes at the coach and does whatever the hell he wants too, how do you expect the rest of your team to buy in? No wonder they sucked.

    So for all the people who moan about Hall and how he should be with the Oilers and point and say. “he could be doing that on the Oilers.” You are kidding yourself. He’s a guy who thinks he should be “the man” on the team and he wouldn’t be “the man” on the Oilers. He’s a guy who in 6 yrs, never elevated himself or his team, so why would he do that on the Oilers playing second fiddle to McDavid. He is a guy who by his own admission said in his entire NHL career, he never listened to a single coach until he was traded to the Devils. That INCLUDES the current coach of the Oilers – McLellan. I think his selfishness and unwillingness to change his game and buy into the coach continued in his first year with the Devils because if you look at the stats, they were the same as the Oilers stats. If you look at how the team played in Hall’s first year, they were the same as the Oilers. He played well but he never elevated anyone or the team. If you listen to all the whining he did last year, he was still an immature selfish guy. He said it took him getting traded and reevaluating himself to finally wake up and realize he needed to change. It’s pretty obvious he made some changes with himself most likely mindset wise and clearly has decided that listening to the coach and buying in fully is the right thing to do. I say this, because the results speak for them self. But I personally do not see him making these personal changes if he was an Oiler. He never did them in the 6 yrs he was an Oiler. He didn’t think it was important to buy in or listen to the current Oilers head coach. Now you factor in that he has McDavid in front of him, so it would be a hit to his ego because he’s no longer “the guy” on all the posters and he would have McDavid on the team so Hall could further have the attitude to “let someone else” do it. So why would he Hall have ever changed as an Oiler. He wouldn’t.

    • hagar

      Exactly. It shows an obvious problem with the franchise, but doesn’t mean we would be an allstar team if everyone gone was still here. There is a difference between now days Eberle, Dubnyk, Shultz, Hall and others than when they played here. On paper if we kept everyone the team should be insane, but each piece didn’t perform properly on this poorly ran team. If they were all still here I seriously doubt we would be any better this year.

    • Hemmercules

      I fully agree with this. Hall also said once that he never put in extra efforts in the summer until he went to Jersey. All the top guys in the league go to extra camps and facilities to tune their game and their bodies during the summer and Hall never even stepped on the ice until basically camp time. All those years with extra months to prepare. Hall didn’t care about the Oilers as much as they needed him to.

    • Jason Gregor

      Things I find interesting…You wrote

      “He’s a guy who in 6 yrs, never elevated himself or his team, so why would he do that on the Oilers playing second fiddle to McDavid.”

      So the two years where he was top-ten in scoring he didn’t elevate himself? I think McDavid is proving this year, that a player can play great and the team still sucks. McDavid, like Hall, doesn’t play defence or goal. McDavid is better than Hall, and guess what, even with him playing great the Oilers are still a bottom-five team.

      Then you wrote…
      “He is a guy who by his own admission said in his entire NHL career, he never listened to a single coach until he was traded to the Devils. That INCLUDES the current coach of the Oilers – McLellan.”

      It is amazing how people twist words and read what they want to hear. Never once did Hall say he didn’t listen to coaches. His exact quote was..

      “I really didn’t want to talk to coaches. I didn’t really want to have dialogue with coaches. I just wanted to play. And a lot of guys are like that.”

      Never said he didn’t listen. Many players don’t seek out extra one-on-one conversations with coaches. And the fact is, I’d say it is on the coach to do that. Hall said he didn’t initiate more conversation than the basic. Was that an error, likely to an extent, but as young players or people we learn things. And Hynes reached out after a full season with Hall to get him more comfortable. Outside of Eakins, which coach had that chance in Edmonton? Renney? Nope. Fired after one year. Krueger? Nope, fired after one year (48) games. Todd Nelson? Nope. Was Interim coach for half a season.

      Hall, like every young hockey player and human, learns as he goes.

      As for your other opinion on Hall couldn’t handle being the guy. He loved playing with McDavid, he saw how much better he could make the team and that’s why he was so annoyed when he was traded. Hall enjoyed when McDavid came on the scene because he wasn’t in the spotlight as much. He is an introvert and he spoke openly about it. Your opinion on the matter is based on nothing factual. And the biggest issue in society today is when people present opinion as facts.

      The facts are Hall did elevate his play in Edmonton. Over two seasons (2012/2013-2013/2014) he was the 6th highest scorer in the NHL with 130 points trailing Kessel (132), Giroux (134), Ovechkin (135) Getzlaf (136) and Crosby (160). Even then the team still sucked, just like they do this year despite McDavid sitting in 3rd in the NHL in scoring. McDavid is on pace for exactly 100 points, the same he had last year. He is suddenly bad, because the Oilers suck? Nope.

      Of course Hall has matured and grown. He wasn’t perfect as a young player on or off the ice, but any suggestion Hall didn’t elevate his play, or that he couldn’t handle having McDavid around unequivocally false. It is good to see any person grow, because it inspires others to realize they too can grow as a person.

      • morsecode89

        Props for this Gregor. You’re totally right… The comment above that you’ve dismantled is a huge problem in a society, twisting words and facts in order to dismantle a public character’s figure.

        For @TKB2677 , you’re argument doesn’t hold a lot of water. You can totally defend the act of trading Taylor Hall, but right now the return on that trade looks underwhelming at best, and the Oilers as a team look like they could use another elite talent like Hall. The reality is that Hall was an elite producer that ran into injuries in the last few seasons, including the last season and the year he was traded out of Edmonton. This year he’s healthy, on an absolute tear, and probably a Hart trophy candidate.

        … But yeah. Edmonton is definitely better off without him…

  • Prairiechicken

    He doesn’t seem any “slower” skating than before. Which would be the most obvious sign he’s breaking down physically. He’s never been “quick” but even this year I’ve seen him beat guys to pucks 50 feet away.
    But what has been painfully obvious is his passes to the other team (especially leaving the zone). And a complete inability to get to the hard areas and find those greasy goals you’d expect of someone on the first PP and or playing with Connor / Leon.
    I’m not sure what to make of this … Maybe it’s just a mental slump? Maybe the first thing to go for a player is their hands and thinking of the game?
    Whatever the case, I’m rooting for him to turn it around in the offseason – for his sake (he seems like he’s working hard and respected by all his teammates) and ours (no way to get around 5 years more).

  • KMA

    Milan was done as a viable pro-player a few years ago. That’s why the same Pistol Pete got rid of him in Boston. This unfortunately proves the fact that Chia is an idiot. Who in their right mind would sign a guy who he traded away years earlier.

  • puckle-head

    I don’t think any reasonable Oilers fan expects regular 29 game goal droughts from Lucic for at least a few more years. Doesn’t make me like the contract anymore, his rough season was conveniently emblematic of Chiarelli’s poor decisions as a whole. I’d expect him to return as a moderately useful, but overpaid player on a terrible contract next year.

  • OilCan2

    Lucic is probably playing hurt. If you are not at 100% the NHL exposes you. No team EVER gives the microscopic and full doctor report on any player.

    Good on Hallsy. Jersey is WAY AWAY from the YEG fishbowl. He HAD TO get a 20 point streak to get noticed there. That being said I like Larsson here.

  • Heschultzhescores

    Lucic has never been Taylor Hall, two very different players. Lucic has also never been a great goal scorer. He is a physical guy who can score, there is a big difference. Lucic is fine if we keep him in the role he was meant for. He’s a 45-50 pt guy, and that’s not too bad. He’ had a slump, get over it, like he did.

  • Itsjustagame

    I’m impressed with Lucic to go through everything that he has and to stay as stable as he is. He is hard on himself and he is a great player, great spokesman and he will do what it takes to up his game.