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.
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.”
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.