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Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t Lose on Lucic…

The Edmonton Oilers can’t afford to just give Milan Lucic away. As I reported last week, he is open to a trade, but general manager Peter Chiarelli can’t give him away for nothing, and it makes little sense he sweeten the pot (add in a draft pick) just to rid the Oilers of Lucic’s contract.

Lucic turned 30 last Thursday. History suggests his most productive years are behind him, but how much of a drop off we will see over the next few seasons? Let’s be honest, you, me and every NHL GM will only be guessing when it comes to Lucic’s future production, because no one knows for sure.

Of all 31 NHL GMs, Chiarelli should know Lucic the best. Lucic has played 11 seasons in the league and Chiarelli has been his GM for ten of them. He knows his personality, his strengths and weaknesses and who he is on and off the ice. He should have the most informed opinion on what Lucic is capable of moving forward.

Projecting Lucic’s future isn’t as simple as some have suggested, and I believe far too many people are overvaluing, negatively, his final 46 games of last season.

Lucic wasn’t good. He looked disinterested. He was disheartened and his confidence shrunk quicker than my hairline in my early thirties. My hair never grew back, which is fine because I look better with a shaved head than I did with my straight hair, but Lucic’s offence could recover.

He has been a fairly consistent point producer over the past eight seasons, and even recently.

He had 55 points in 2016, he had 50 in 2017 and he had 26 in his first 36 games last year. He was on pace to surpass 50 points for the sixth time in his career before heading home for the Christmas break, but when he returned he went on the worst stretch of his career.

He scored one goal in 46 games with a shooting percentage of 1.3 on 79 shots. He had eight points. He was an ugly -18.

In the first 36 games, he had nine goals, a 13.2 SH% on 68 shots and 26 points. He was +6.

He was the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde, and I find it difficult to believe next season he will be as unproductive, uninspired and ineffective as he was for the final 46 games.

We’ve seen many player’s skill diminish with age, but to fall, or plummet, off the cliff as fast as he did seems more like an outlier. That doesn’t mean his skill won’t diminish, but how quickly, is the question.

FUTURE VALUE

Mar 31, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left wing Milan Lucic (27) and Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Smith (41) fight during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Lucic’s value is hard to gauge, but Chiarelli can’t afford to trade away another productive winger — which Lucic has been in his career, excluding the final 46 games last season — and lessen the overall skill level of the Oilers.

Edmonton doesn’t have any proven, productive wingers. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has played a whopping 13 games as a winger, and while I fully expect he will produce quite regularly alongside Connor McDavid, he hasn’t done it consistently.

Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Patrick Maroon have been moved out of Edmonton in the past two seasons, and even if you are on the anti-Lucic train, it is foolish to think the Oilers can just toss him away for nothing and not have it impact them negatively. They can’t continually give away scoring wingers and not replace them. They don’t have anyone internally who can replace him, so if they move him, Chiarelli needs to get some sort of offence in return.

I understand Lucic’s cap hit, $6 million, and his five-year term make it unlikely he will live up to that contract, but are you certain he can’t be a 45-50 point player again for the next few seasons?

Lucic’s skating isn’t his issue. HIs decisions with the puck were. He isn’t slow, but when he’d overhandle the puck, or just make a low percentage pass that led to a turnover, his decision making made him look slower than he is. It became increasingly noticeable when he played with hardly any emotion or confidence, but his track record suggests he is capable of bouncing back.

How far? I’m not sure.

Dustin Brown just scored 61 points at 33 years of age. He did that after four consecutive seasons of 36, 28, 27 and 27 points. Many, including me, thought his days as a productive winger were long gone. He proved most of us wrong, and while there is no guarantee Lucic can be like Brown, the facts are he is 30 years of age and has been a very proud player who is always in good shape.

He will be highly motivated next season, and if Chiarelli is going to trade him he needs to ensure he gets a fair return. Lucic’s value isn’t as low as many believe.

The Oilers have paid Lucic $16 million the past two seasons. He had a $3.5 million bonus due on July 1st, so if the Oilers trade him after July 1st his new teams will pay him $22.5 million in cash over the next five seasons. He would have a cap hit of $6 million, but he’ll be owed an average of $4.5 million in actual cash.

That changes his overall value.

In a text conversation with an NHL scout he wrote, “He (Lucic) has always been a very smart player. However, he struggles when he tries to force things and be fancy. He isn’t a fancy player, but when he plays to his strengths he can still be very effective. I felt he lost his emotional edge in the second half of last season and a big part of his success comes though his emotional connection to the game. He’s had short stints where he didn’t look involved, but never for that long. I’d be willing to bet he finds that again, but I don’t know how long he remains a top-six winger. Maybe he will only be a top-nine guy for the final few years of his contract, but I don’t think he has hit the wall yet.”

PARTING SHOT

Opposing GMs will try to use Lucic’s 46-game drought to their advantage in trade talks, but Chiarelli needs to look at the entire canvas, not a small sample size. Chiarelli also needs to know all the details behind why Lucic is willing to waive his No Movement Clause after only two years. It is for personal reasons, and I’m always hesitant to discuss those publicly. Despite making millions to play a game, I think sometimes we forget hockey players are human beings first. Money doesn’t solve emotional, mental, health or family problems. There are some reasons why he is open to being moved after only two years, and both Lucic and Chiarelli need to be open about those reasons to possible suitors.

The Oilers can’t afford to just toss away another proven NHL winger. Even in his worst NHL season he was still fifth on the Oilers in scoring.

Chiarelli needs to find the right balance and weigh the possible benefits of shedding a $6 million salary, against the type of production Lucic could produce in the next few seasons. It isn’t as easy as just saying Lucic is ageing and his production will crater.

As surprising as it might seem to some, Lucic isn’t an awful player. He had a horrible 46-game stretch, but that shouldn’t overshadow all of his positive traits as a player. Finding a fair and accurate evaluation will be the challenge.

Trading him might be more complicated than it seems, but Chiarelli can’t afford to just toss away another winger with a decent track record of producing. He needs to make a trade that helps the organization.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Moneyball

    Funny to see oilersnation backtrack after the possibility of a Lucic trade hits the media. What happened to the run him out of town to save cap space at all cost articles?

    • Wanting him versus sell the farm to get rid of him are 2 different things. If there is a trade that is fair then go for it. If the trade is to take back a crappy player with a similar contract, what is the point? I’d think it is highly likely he would be better than he was last year so there is no harm on reevaluating this next year. Have to get out of the habit of dump player after a bad year.

    • LAKID

      Really, no reporting of good articles on any Nations sites but Oilers Nation is the best of all of them. FN nation won’t let you post if you are an Oiler fan and the government of Canada is sponsoring the site get rid of them.

  • Vanoil

    So we should all assume that the League is going to stay at relatively the same pace this year … We shouldn’t expect those teams that got caught out of the loop, not to take steps to improve their over-all team speed to compete in this League; we should assume that Lucic can make up not only the additional year of his age & weight, but that he can pick-up speed and skill to play at that new speed (against the forces of nature/gravity).

    Or we can all call a spade a spade and say Chiarelli screwed this one up big time, because he wasn’t the right guy for the job then, and he is more than likely to screw this one up again now (precisely because he has Lucic bias). The better “deal” would have been to fire Chiarelli, and then un-load Lucic to whatever team Chiarelli went to … because he is obviously the only one dumb enough to take a flier on him at this point (them having a history together and all).

  • NewPants

    If the oil need cap space they should be looking at moving Sek or Russ. Finding a RD or using Bear will be better then replacing Lucic on the second and third lines.

  • Anton CP

    I don’t know how that the Oilers fan believed by somehow the team will have more cap space if they can just simply move Lucic away? Ideally that an average middle 6 wings are around 4~5m per year so Lucic is making 1m above that, 1m is not even enough to sign a bottom six forward or 6/7 defense. Just look at a 37 years old Patrick Marleau signed for 6.25m for 3 years with Leafs last season, so by many standards that Lucic’s contract is not the problem.

    The out cry of removing Lucic are simply naive and detached from reality, Lucic maybe over valued as it stands but it is not by much. He is still worth somewhere between 5~6m on open market so what are you looking for IF Lucic’s contract is only 5m instead? What can you get for 1m annual salary?

    • crabman

      @Anton CP,

      I guess the discussion needs to start with where a person sees Luciv lining up. If you see him as a passable-good 2nd line wing next year and the majority of the next 5 years then trading Lucic makes no sense. If you think he will be a consistent 50+ point guy as well as being the other Lucic intangibles over the course of his contract then ofcourse trading him for cap space to sign a player for the same cap hit to fill the same role makes no sense.
      But where my opinion differs is I don’t see him as a good 2LW next year and certainly not for the duration of his contract. I see him as a solid 3LW. A player that is needed and has value.
      Right now if the cap goes to $80M and the team gets it’s 4 RFAs signed to reasonable deals totaling $9-9.5M they should have in the the $6M range to sign a 7th D and 3 forwards, 1 of which should be a top6 forward to replace Lucic if he doesn’t bounce back. If Lucic was moved with no money coming back the team would still need that top6 winger it needs now but would have another $6M to fill the 3rd line winger job he currently holds and 2 other forward players to fill out the roster and a 7th D. $12M for 2nd line wing 3rd line wing 2 bottom roster forwards and a 7th D sounds better than only $6M for a top6 winger , 2 bottom roster forwards and a 7th D doesn’t it. I’m not certain the team can fill all those roster spots in 1 off season and especially not all through free agency
      The team will be right back to this point in a couple seasons if they try to sign their way out. But it does open up the cap space to take on salary in trades and leaves them more flexibility in years to come.
      So if a person sees Lucic as a 3LW, the cap savings on a short term replacement would actually be $3-3.5M dollars. If a person sees him as a 2LW them moving him makes no sense.

    • IRONman

      New NHL is speed. Lucic is slow. Need Lucic and Sekera to go. 11.5 million gets better, younger and quicker players. If your over 30, nhl is not 4 u. 97 is the future and you all know it. Look at Vegas.

      • Big Nuggets

        Everyone talks like the league is changing at some incredible rate. Speed is most important, goalies need to be at least 6’5, defensemen all need to be puck moving defensmen. Meanwhile Washington wins with hitting, Fleury was the best goalie in the playoffs and Kris Russell still has a job. The league isn’t changing that fast. As long as there are battles along the boards and in front of the net there will be big guys in the league. Speed is an important element which has as much to do with thinking fast as it does skating fast. If you look at the 2 teams in the finals I would say that team unity is the most important element to success. Everyone in Washington wanted Ovie to win the cup as much as they wanted to win for themselves and Vegas was the team of cast aways that came together. The Oilers on the otherhand, I won’t speculate what happened with them but there did not appear to be the team unity that other teams had.

        • Bills Bills

          Good teams set the trend. They don’t follow it. In two years a big and heavy team will dominate for two seasons and everyone will say we need to get heavier. It is stupid. Know what type of team you want, build it, perfect it and everyone will be saying “we need to do what they are doing”.