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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Milan Lucic: The Smart Play

The terrific thing about being an NHL player in Edmonton is the passionate fan base. That’s also what sucks most about being a player in Oilers’ silks in this city. For better and for worse, fans here have a habit of getting carried away when it comes to the five-time Stanley Cup champions. It’s a case of love ‘em or hate ‘em, with not a lot of middle ground in between.

At long last, we saw the pent-up upside of that last season when the Oilers made it into the playoffs after a decade on the outside looking in and Connor McDavid was on his way to becoming the NHL’s scoring champ and MVP. McDavid could’ve run for mayor and won. Happy days were here again, or at least it seemed they were well on the way. What a place to be a player.

This season, we’re seeing the downside (again), when the Oilers aren’t within a $5 cab ride of making the post-season. Fans are sour, and rightfully so, given the raised expectations of that march into the second round a year ago. Everything and everyone stinks. Outside of GM Peter Chiarelli, who put this team together, I can’t think of anybody who has been more of a target for frustrated fans than Milan Lucic. He’s a bum. He can’t play. Get him outta here.

Two years into a seven-year contract worth $42 million, Lucic is struggling mightily. With 10-22-32 through 70 games, Lucic isn’t producing nearly enough – at even strength or on the power play. At times, he struggles just to make or take a pass. When it comes to toughness, a dimension Chiarelli paid a premium for, Lucic is crashing around, but he’s not taking care of business often enough with the gloves off, in the opinion of many. Why didn’t the big lug punch Matt Stajan’s teeth down his throat in Calgary?

WHAT THEY SAY

Oct 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left wing Milan Lucic (27) during the face off against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period at Rogers Place. Winnipeg Jets won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

I understand the frustration by fans, which was at its high pitch before Lucic broke a 29-game goal-scoring drought against the Arizona Coyotes. One needed only listen to the post-game radio call-in shows or read websites like this one to get the hang of that. That’s the downside of playing in a town like this. Like it or not, it’s part of the deal – especially when the deal is as rich as the one Lucic signed and has another five seasons remaining.

That said, I’m glad the people bitching the loudest, the minority who think Lucic is surely finished and should be on a rail out of town sooner than later, aren’t calling the shots here. That’s not to suggest I’m particularly confident in Chiarelli’s ability to do so when you consider the moves he’s made, but I’ll take a detached approach to making things right over much of what I’m hearing from the fringes of a flustered fan base.

When things go bad here, they can go really bad, and in a hurry. I’ve seen it before – Jason Arnott comes to mind — and I’m seeing it now with Lucic. When that happens, some fans tend to fixate on the player they’re pissed at. The focus turns to the negative. If you’re looking for mistakes, you’ll damn sure find them. They get magnified. The player can do no right, even if he does.

The game in Calgary tells me Lucic is in that place right now. If you were screaming about Lucic not kicking some ass and leaving Stajan blowing snot bubbles because McDavid took a bump, you might be there, too. That’s not right or wrong. It’s just how it goes here. That’s not a place, however, Chiarelli, coach Todd McLellan and anybody else in hockey ops can afford to be. 

DOWN THE ROAD

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

If you’re of the mind Lucic hasn’t been nearly good enough in just about every way you’d care to measure things by this season, you won’t get any argument from me or anybody who has been paying attention. If you believe Lucic has to take this off-season to ensure he comes back next season leaner, lighter and quicker to adapt to the speed-game we’re seeing, I’m with you. If you’re of the mind Lucic has hit the wall and is now headed down the wrong side of the hill at full-speed, you might be right, although I don’t agree.

Like it or not, the reality is Lucic isn’t going anywhere. He has a NMC clause and the term and amount left on his contract makes him almost untradeable. It’s in the best interests of the Oilers to do everything they can to give Lucic a chance to bounce back, to be the tough, physical winger capable of producing 50-60 points that he’s been until this season. The player they paid for.

Like it or not, that means playing Lucic, not benching him or burying him in the press box. That means giving Lucic ice time and opportunities to turn things around at the tail-end of a season that’s already lost. Give him the chance to go into the off-season on a positive note. That’s the smart play because the Oilers have already made a huge investment in him. You can write Lucic off if you want, but that’s not something Chiarelli has the luxury of.

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      • fisherprice

        I always thought it was a bad trade and a bad signing. A slow, physical winger past his prime is exactly the kind of free agent every team should have learned to avoid by now, but they haven’t! The Oilers aren’t alone in this, certainly, but if anyone thought Lucic’s style was going to age well has not been paying attention to the way the league has been trending for about 5 years now.

        Call me a Taylor Hall fan, but the guy got shanked on his way out of town for no real reason, despite being the only reason to watch this godforsaken team for a solid 5 years. The most annoying rationale of all was that Lucic was somehow a replacement for Hall’s production. To me, Lucic symbolizes so much of how this management team had the completely wrong idea about how to build a team around McDavid. A guy with feet of stone is going to be able to play with the fastest player in the league? Okay.

        Anyway, I guess I agree with the main thrust of this article, which is basically that we’re stuck with Lucic so coaching and management should be trying to make the best of a bad situation. I just have no faith in management (a little in the coaching staff though) to actually accomplish this.

    • Gravis82

      If You think hall for Larson and lucic is fair, the Pete should have got Larson + draft picks equal to the value or lucic. Then, they could sign lucic and underpay for a real player they found in the draft.

  • russ99a

    This brings up a really good point. The complaining of Oilers fans overall has gotten to a ludicrous level. We can’t change what happens on the ice, so why get so upset? Is Milan Lucic’s play and his contract a personal issue? Seems kind of silly. I hope a year our of the playoffs and time away from the Oilers gives fans some clarity. We put our hearts into our team but there can be a time when it’s way too much.

    • TruthHurts98

      I don’t think people would be that pissed at him if he was only making 3 million a year. (Just an example) But because he signed 6 million a year contract to infinity and isn’t coming anywhere close to living up to it, fans are pissed. They take it out on him obviously. If he would drop the gloves and be a human wrecking ball we wouldn’t be so upset. But it’s that he not only is the slowest player in the league, he takes multiple nights off. And since the Good Ole Boys Club will never be broken up or it’s unlikely PC a) gets fired b) gets replaced my a competent GM, fans will pile onto the players that are overpaid and underperform. It’s human nature. If we weren’t passionate about are team we wouldn’t be fans at all and spend ludicrous amounts of money to support our team and sport. Just my opinion so I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. Just how I see it.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        I like Looch, & think he has value for the organization. He’s in a slump & knows it. I don’t see him happy about it one bit. He doesn’t give me the impression he’s laughing all the way to the bank, like some hockey stars do.
        I’ll give you an example of a highly respected player with the same point totals year in/out. The downside is this player isn’t known to stand up for his team-mates the way Looch has done. That in my opinion gives Lucic the edge over this guy. He was one of the most sought after UFA’s this year. That player is Rick Nash. Check out their stats. They both came into the league at a similar time.
        Nash is getting paid 7.8 mil on this contract & he is ready to sign somewhere as a UFA.
        Why are we complaining, as every team needs a player like Lucic, Nash, Byfuglin (and anyone else you can think of). They are all paid well. I think his points will go up if we show him some good vibes. He’s that kind of player.

        • The Puck

          It’s nice to see at least a little bit of balance in this discussion. I also believe that Lucic provides value to the team but is struggling mightily at the moment. It is fair to remember though that he was very solid up to Christmas (by my rough count 26 points in 36 games) and particularly in the month of December. The notion that he has struggled the entire season is not correct.

    • RexHolez

      I agree, the complaining of fans have gotten to a ludicrous level, myself included. But that should only be expected when you’re as bad as they have been for so long with what’s perceived to be only cosmetic organizational changes.

      • Leo Tard

        The paying fans have every right to complain. They are paying for this pile of ?. It’s like going to the market and buying a faulty product. I DO NOT AND WILL not accept that it is ok and just keep the product anyway. I expect my money back or someone will lose their job. Period and end of story.

        • Quoteright

          I’ve heard that the only true vote that people have is where you spend your money. Until the fans stop paying inflated rates then really there is no consequence. People need to put their money where their mouths are.

        • I don’t know how much of your money back you deserve for willingly shelling out for a pile of crap. The upper management isn’t going to care until those of you local to Edmonton stop wasting your money.

  • camdog

    The old timers need to quit with the 5 Stanley Cup thing. The 60 year old fans aren’t the ones that are mad about the state of this team, it’s the fans that were too young to remember what happened 30 years ago or weren’t even born yet. Continuing to employ employ Old Oilers from the dynasty years with a track performance of losing in management may appease the 60 year old crowd with fondness of the dynasty years, however the younger crowd only sees subsidizing a billionaire with hundreds of millions for a new rink and then paying more per ticket per win than other franchise in the NHL.

    • Sammy27

      I’ve been watching the Oilers since day 1, the 55 yr old fans are also fed up. We don’t expect the glory days (nor do we want the ineptitude to continue) but some of you have only seen one decade of darkness, the 90’s decade wasn’t anything to brag about either. So if anything the Older Oilers fans should be more frustrated. Don’t pin the Old Boys Club on us.

    • Oilman99

      Totally disagree, as a fan from the beginning,the past eleven out of twelve years are totally disgusting,and infuriating. The incompetence of management is unbelievable when you see other teams rebuild in half the time. The way things have gone since Chia took over McD may never see a cup as an Oiler,and that is a crime.

      • I am 45 and moved here from Wales in 1979. The first great Oilers hockey I remember was upsetting the Canadian’s, I was hooked. I also remember finally beating the stars when we were cash strapped and Doug Weight was and is one of my favourite Oilers.

        Then the surprise cup run in 2007 was awesome and probably taught me more about the game than anything. I definitely value team defence and effort after that experience. Players like Peca and Samsonov playing heavy minutes so younger players could produce offence and later get the contract. Basically burying Souray for speaking his mind instead of playing him and trading him, you know asset management? Trading Smyth and the vets were Horcoff, Hemsky, and Moreau. This is when we were in big trouble. Since then we have written the book on how not to rebuild a team. Just keep drafting offensive players and neglect the back end and questionable coaching.

        This will sum it up for me, remember the show Oilchange we had lost a tight one in San Jose. Taylor Hall has played great in the loss but still looked pissed next day at practice. Steve Smith skates up and says “ you were flying last night, you would ofput me out of business when I played. “ Do you think Babcock would say that after a loss?

    • gordo

      wrong; i’m very pissed that for most of the last 28 years the hockey has been substandard. the katz regime is a tire fire. pocklington wasn’t always easy to take in the 80’s and 90’s, but his regime produced some of the best hockey teams ever.

  • RexHolez

    Lucic is now an oiler. He’s earned his stripes! He has the opportunity to either embrace the wild swings of a small passionate fan base or let it beat him down! Let us never forget that Lucic is Milan bloody Lucic!

    Lucic is folk hero! We can either beat him down or we can encourage him. It’s an individual choice. #IBelieveinLucic

    • Oilman99

      Stripes can be removed if a player is not performing. Milan bloody Lucic needs to perform like atleast a shadow of Milan bloody Lucic. The only hope is he can change his training regimen and reincarnate himself.

      • Heschultzhescores

        Great point! We aren’t against Lucic, we’re against this version of Lucic. Give us the Boston version of Lucic please! Either he has gotten old, or he has gotten soft. He needs to get back to being intimidating or he has no purpose in the league, let alone on the Oilers.

        • Glencontrolurstik

          You are absolutely right.
          Although, I think a lot of his softening up has come from the coaches. Maybe not wanting to have to use their “record-setting” penalty-kill? Or he has injured his hand/s or forearm/s? Which would explain his suddenly horrible puck handling & shot.