The fan base has soured, the coach continues to play him, and the nasty contract isn’t going anywhere. That’s really Milan Lucic’s 2017-18 season in a nutshell.
Apart from a ten game stretch at the end of October/beginning of November where he recorded eight points, the 29-year-old hasn’t had any sort of success, in any area of his game.
They signed him in July of 2016 to be a physical presence who could contribute in their top-six, score on the powerplay and bring some identity to this team as they hoped to start a Connor McDavid led dynasty. They haven’t gotten any of that this year, and with the cap hit of $6 million, it’s inexcusable.
But as an Oilers fan, you already knew that. You’ve seen it on Twitter for months now, and if you’re like me, you’re tired of the negativity surrounding Lucic and his play. Which leads me to my question, can he turn it around?
That depends on your definition of “turning it around”. If you’re hoping for Lucic to quickly to become the player he was in Boston and actually be worth his $6 million price tag, I think you’ll forever be disappointed. Milan Lucic will never be a first line winger with the ability to take over a game again, that ship has sailed.
In my opinion, if Lucic can bounce back and contribute like an average middle-six winger, produce at a decent rate on the power play and bring a bit of nastiness to the Oilers lineup, I think everyone should be happy. I’m not looking for him to contribute like a $6 million player, more like a $4 million player.
For comparables in terms of value, I looked at a pair of players. New Jersey pays Kyle Palmieri $4.65m a year and he’s given them solid minutes in their top-six scoring 14 points at even strength and 18 points with the man advantage. Even though he doesn’t drive the play, he impacts the game in a positive nature. A good complimentary player for his cap hit.
I also looked at a guy like Justin Williams who’s bound for another 50 point season and helps the Hurricanes on the power play. He comes with a $4.5 million cap hit but he brings a solid veteran presence to Carolina and often plays his best hockey in the playoffs. All those are valuable traits.
Although his contract is ugly, I would be happy if Lucic could bring something along the lines of what the two players I mentioned bring. If he can contribute in the top-six and help the powerplay be productive while being a good presence in the room, then I think he can salvage his reputation a little.
Lucic also brings his best when the games matter most and his team is in the playoffs, I think that’s a big reason why the Oilers brought him in. Now, obviously, he’s been a big reason why the team won’t be in the playoffs this season, but I think his lacklustre regular seasons would be forgiven if he cranks up his level of play in the postseason.
That sort of brings me to my next point, which is: can we realistically expect a 29-year-old Milan Lucic to turn back the clock and become a useful NHL player
The one name everyone points to is Dustin Brown, who signed a big money deal with the LA Kings and then almost immediately saw his production fall off a cliff.
After scoring 29 points in a lockout-shortened 2012-13 season (0.63 ppg), he saw his points per game drop to 0.34 the next year, 0.32 in the 2014-15 & 2015-16 seasons, and 0.45 in 2016-17. His contract was looking like one of the worst in the league.
Then at 33 years old, he turned it around. Brown already has 48 points this year and seems to have a new found chemistry with Anze Kopitar. Brown has found an ability to produce at a level that makes his $5.875 million price tag a little bit easier to swallow.
At 29, it’s not entirely far-fetched to think that Lucic can come back next season. He has a career shooting percentage of 13.9% and this year he’s seen it drop to 7.4%. That alone would lead you to believe Lucic should have a little bit better puck luck next year.
Obviously, he needs to get faster and work on other things in his game, but again, I don’t think we should be dismissing the possibility of Lucic bouncing back and giving the Oilers a couple of semi-productive years.