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Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Bounce: Milan Lucic

When players sign a big-ticket contract like Milan Lucic did with the Edmonton Oilers in July 2016, big expectations are part of the bargain. To understate, Lucic fell short of those expectations last season, a frustration-filled campaign that produced just 10-24-34, including a final 48 games in which he scored just one goal. The storylines this off-season have focused on whether he’ll even be back in Oilers’ silks in 2018-19.

Since June 7, there’s been no less than nine stories written on this website about the possibility of Lucic being traded, including several takes on what a deal might look like. There’s also been much talk about the possibility Lucic has asked for a trade or, at the very least, that both he and the Oilers are open to one. Agent Jerry Johansson has addressed that multiple times. From June 29 with Jim Matheson:

“Milan didn’t ask for a trade and Peter (Chiarelli) 100 per cent has not come to us about moving Milan. If he wants to get out from under the contract, he has to talk to us. What’s going on with Milan? Absolutely nothing. Milan had a bad year. The team had a bad year . . . He’s coming back to play for the Edmonton Oilers. That’s not exactly a fancy storyline but that’s what it is.”

IF THAT’S WHAT IT IS . . .

Apr 5, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic (27) and Vegas Golden Knights defensemen Zach Whitecloud (2) battle for a loose puck along the boards during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

So, unless Johansson isn’t telling it straight or something has changed, let’s assume Lucic is coming back to start the third year of his seven-year, $42-million contract. The way I see it, it’s not a question of if Lucic will bounce back from the worst season of his NHL career after a second half to 2017-18 that was absolutely epic in ineptitude and frustration, it’s a matter of how much. Not just in terms of production, but overall impact.

By the numbers, the bar has been set extremely low. Lucic’s 34 points was his lowest total in his last seven full seasons (he had 27 in 46 games in the shortened 2012-12 campaign). His seven even-strength goals tied a career low (he also had seven as a rookie in 2007-08 and seven in 2012-13). Lucic’s shooting percentage last season finished up at 6.8 per cent. Even factoring in that number, he’s been a 13.7 per cent shooter or his career.

Beyond that, there were times last season when Lucic couldn’t even make or take a pass as his confidence waned. Often, Lucic looked a step behind. Even when he got there on time, he often didn’t do much when he arrived. His frustration was obvious. His overall level of engagement varied. Having turned 30 on June 7, it’s fair to ask whether Lucic simply struggled last season or if 2017-18 was the beginning of an inevitable decline. I don’t have that answer.

The way I see it, it could be a bit of both. I don’t expect to see Lucic go more than half a season with just one goal again. That said, it’s far from certain at this stage in his career that he’ll be a 50-point player again – a mark he’s reached five times, including a couple of 60-plus-point seasons – even if he comes in lighter and can find another half-step with the game getting quicker. Can Lucic be a top-six left winger again? The Oilers need one.

WHAT’S NEXT?

For me, the wildcard with Lucic is the mental aspect of the game. Can he park the futility and frustration he endured last season and come back determined to do whatever it takes to keep it in the rear-view mirror? Regardless of what Johansson said, it’s fair to ask if Lucic is happy here. Is there an underlying issue that we don’t know about? There’s been speculation about that, although we have nothing on the record from Lucic or the Oilers to suggest a problem.

The bottom line is my expectation is that Lucic will be better in 2018-19 than he was last season — I just can’t imagine he’ll be as bad again. I can see Lucic, without going out on too much of a limb, getting 40-45 points. Beyond next season, though, I’m not sure how or where things play out. When Lucic signed his seven-year deal, I thought it might be two years too long. The way I see it now, that’s likely the best the Oilers can hope for.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • The Future Never Comes

    I hope more than anything else, Lucic focuses on puckhandling drills, like taking and making a pass under pressure for the bulk of the season. I believe started to focus on him and pressure him extra hard in the back half of last season as they new he would cough it up.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    It really is up to Lucic if he stays or goes, because of his no move clause. Lucic stock is too low for the Oil to not get taken to the cleaner trying to trade Lucic,
    Lucic really need to tear it up and put point on the board and play some solid hockey if he really wants out of Edmonton that bad. That will only help in aiding Chia to move him, otherwise I dont see Lucic going anywhere, and the team as a whole needs to play better as well if they want to make the playoffs. No one is going to jump at the chance to take the hit contract wise for Lucic after last year and it really is up to Lucic to prove to everyone that he still has it, if Lucic can play like he did the first year he was here, that will ve better for him, the Oil and Chia

    • That's My Point

      Lucic can still fight, as per the video March 2018.

      Hopefully he gets the rest of his game going this year and can write off last season as an anomaly.

    • crabman

      Lucic was my absolute most dispised player before coming to Edmonton, right up there also is Marchand. But the day he signed with the Oilers I started rooting for him. I will continue to root for him as long as he is a member of this team. The better he plays the better it is for everyone, right?

  • Rob...

    If Bettman wants to fully justify his inclusion into the HHOF the next CAB will eliminate signing bonuses, include a scaled base salary that depends on TIO, and a scaled bonus system that works off of their base salary, or alternatively eliminate guaranteed contracts. I can dream…

  • Semenko27

    Take the reins off him, let him fight as much as he wants. He is a better player overall when he plays more like Godzilla. It gives him the space on the ice he needs to be effective.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I agree, it IS after all the reason he was signed here, wasn’t it?
      The Oilers were too soft, easy to play against. With Maroon gone, it’s up to Lucic & Kassian to fill that role.

        • Dallas Eakins Hair

          I loved Khaira play last season, I am hoping that he keeps trending up, he hits he bangs he sticks up for guys, that’s what we need guys to do. I amalso hoping he keeps rolling like he did last year

          • As long as Lucic is still here J.k. Is cemented to bottom 8 as he would have leap frog over Lucic to a top six spot. Same goes for Kassian. These guys have better checking abilities as they can skate, Milan can check just takes a while to get back. Still let’s support Lucic, this situation needs to get better.

    • toprightcorner

      Voted the toughest player in the NHL by his peers, nobody wants to fight him, especially since it gets him more involved in the game. I don’t believe for a second that McLellan told Lucic to stop fighting, I do believe that opposing coaches told his players not to wake the sleeping giant.

  • Dan 1919

    It’s up to Lucic, he has all the tools to be an effective NHL’er. Sure he’s never going to adapt Pavel Bure’s game, but he can be and was very impactful in his own right.

    Call me cynical but most of these slumps come after big contract signings. Lucic and many other NHL’ers think they’ll just get away with somewhat coasting, it never pans out. Coincidence that players’ better years are contract years? Obviously not.

    This might not be the popular opinion, but Lucic needs to not take the NHL for granted and train this offseason like he’s trying to make the team, not take’r easy because he’s arrived in the NHL with a guaranteed $6mil/yr regardless of how he plays.

    It’s not just Lucic, the whole Oilers team shifted down a gear last year, Klefbom, Draisaitl, Benning, Cagguila, Kassian… all from my eye, put in slightly less shift after shift than the year before.

    The most concerning part about Lucic is, for me he’s supposed to be the one driving the culture that doesn’t allow these young guys to even think about shifting down a gear, never mind doing it himself. That being said I don’t think it’s too late for Lucic to take last season as wake-up call and cement himself as that guy that doesn’t let it happen for the rest of his career.
    Lucic has the package to bounce back, and bounce back harder than most people think, I bet he does.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      “Call me cynical but most of these slumps come after big contract signings.”

      Could be the pressure. Carey Price took 10.5 and pooped the bed. Happened to others, too. When you take that money you HAVE to produce.

      Pressure.

  • Make Another Bad Trade or Signing!!

    Agree that it looks like the best the Oilers could hope for is a bad final 2 years of the contract. Milan and his agent negotiated a deal that would provide near-100% protection for the case of the player losing his game, which might be the case. They knew what they were doing, PC knew what he was doing, and now they are all living with the consequences. At 30, it would seem unlikely that Lucic will get his game back, but he could still be an important player with more consistency. Unfortunately that contract will remain an obstacle and the stories will continue. Had Lucic signed for a bit lower dollars and less term, had PC not made some other terrible moves, etc., there would not be the focus on Lucic and everyone would be happier. Unfortunately the spotlight is on the GM and player, but that is the reality of the business.

  • Guy5354

    Lucic is built for the playoffs. It’s one thing to make the playoffs. It’s a completely other thing to win in the playoffs. Players like Lucic are invaluable to winning in the playoffs. Obviously we have to make the playoffs first and it would certainly help that cause if he contributed more points during the regular season. He had a bad year, his worst ever. He has pride and very likely he will be better this year. If we make the playoffs, where they let a lot more go, he can dominate with his physicality on the boards and in front of the net. That’s when his contract will show it’s value.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I agree. You make a point that is seldom brought up. But I believe you may have something there? The timing to your theory lines up perfectly in the bad half to the season last year. Interesting.
      So, based on your observation then, If the Oilers are in a playoff hunt, then Looch will shine… Makes sense.

  • camdog

    In the second half of the season in the offensive zone, Milan attempted a lot of blind passes to the slot, that ended up going the other way. He wasn’t using his size and strength the way he had in the past. He was still finishing his hits, but his down low work in the offensive zone wasn’t there. I don’t know if it was a physical ailment, but one thing is sure he had absolutely no confidence.

    There’s a certain group of Oiler fans that seemed to relish Lucic’s struggles. When Lucic signed that contract, I don’t think he expected this many of his own teams fans hoping he would fail, that’s tough on a person. Hockey players are professionals, but it’s impossible not too feel the negativity that comes with playing in Edmonton and it does impact some players games.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    I’m really rooting for Milan next season. As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of his presence here on the Oil. Last year was rough, but can you honestly blame him? The team was doing badly, players were probably getting chewed out in public, and then he had to deal with the pregancy of his wife. I have high hopes for #27 and I’m not letting last season set the norm for him. And people tend to forget he was on pace for a 59 point campaign before his confidence went in the crapper. So yes, I’m looking forward to Milan’s bounce back.

  • lee

    I would like to see the no move contracts limited to 2 per team in the next collective bargaining lock out/strike.
    I would also like to see a change in the way salary plus bonuses are divided.
    Somehow GM’s need to have a contract where the player is motivated for the life of his contract.
    For me the biggest change I would like to see is that if your senior player is struggling or not playing well (coasting) he can be sent down to the AHL for a month at a time without having to wave him.
    The truth is many GM’s are just plain dumb, and they will give the much smarter agents anything they desire to sign that player who will save the team and his job. This seems to work out about 15% of the time, the rest of the time that GM is replaced and the new GM is brought in to clean up the mess.
    This is a young mans league but often its the players who are turning 28-31 who get that last contract that really hurts the team halfway through the contract (7 years). Montreal’s top 2 players are making 20 mill between them and both players are on the down side/hurt and have contracts that will hurt that team for years.
    The NHL has always (last 20 years) been a league that caves to the players demands, look at soccer. The great Ronaldo was just sold because he demanded to be front and center of his team for the next 2 years, and he is #1 – #4 in the world. He is also 33 and the team told him no, would that happen in the NHL, not a chance.
    Getting paid for what you used to be is a recipe for disaster.

  • TKB2677

    I am sure that the reason Lucic was “open” to a trade was the pure abuse he got. Oilers fans can be brutal. If you do well, they will love you but god help you if you do anything bad. So I am sure even the toughest pro would be taken back by it. Lucic was having a good year before xmas, then he went into a slump and all the haters who are just dying to jump on a guy as soon as they can went “See, what did I tell you, he sucks, he can’t play, brutal contract, blah, blah, blah.” As the games went by, more and more piled on. Then all the know it all stats bloggers bring out their spread sheets and cherry pick the numbers that suit their opinion and it got worse. So I am sure and he admitted it, he was as low as he probably has ever been. When you don’t believe in yourself, nothing works no matter how hard you try. To makes matters worse, he was very unlucky as well.

    So I am pretty confident he will bounce back strictly because he’s a proud guy and will want to shove it up the ass of every doubter. I could totally see him returning to his normal numbers. 20+ goals, 50 pts. He was more than on pace for that before xmas so I can see it happening.

    • Rock11

      The biggest issue with Lucic last year and frankly it was something I’d seen in his game in the past as well was inconsistent effort. I was always concerned that the character factor was overblown with him. As a young player he could simply take over games and overwhelm teams. That seemed to only happen on occasion. Last year when he began to struggle the frustration he felt manifested itself by simply giving up in the middle of shifts. Not a good example and one of the things that people used to complain about in a young Taylor Hall. If Lucic simply brings 100% effort to every shift next year then the year will have been a success.

    • MrBung

      Oiler fans are ornery because this team has made the playoffs once in the last 12 plus years. Also current team is in cap hell and missed the playoffs by a lot with the best player in the world

    • Make Another Bad Trade or Signing!!

      Hope you are right about the recovery in his play as the Oilers desperately need it. Biggest keys to my untrained eye are focus and effort.

    • Reg Dunlop

      Maybe Katz should implement a muzzle order on every poster on Lowetide’s site. Oilersnation at it’s worst is a love-in compared to the pretentious stats clowns there.

  • cmandev77

    I am hoping and betting Lucic will be better next season. As for his contract, I am not sure why everyone is worried. If we need to get out of it, it will not be that difficult. There are many teams that are spending at the league minimum who would love his contract. This year his contract counts as $6 mil against the cap but is only costing a team $4.5 million. Next season is when his contract becomes really juicy for those league minimum teams. After he receives his bonus he will only cost those teams $1.5 million a season and still count as $6 million against the cap. Lucic will be an extremely attractive 3rd or 4th liner next season with this contract for a cheap spending team. Keep him this season unless the right deal comes along because next season his value will skyrocket because of his contract.

  • Redbird62

    Let me start by saying I have never been a Lucic fan, and was not keen on the Oilers signing him. He was never one to handle the puck particularly well, but he did seem to give the puck away more this year than last. However, I don’t fully buy the speed of the game has passed him by argument. He was on pace for 54 points after 41 games, and he was not suddenly slower in January, or the rest of the league faster. And looking at most of the his other statistics, besides points, most of his other stats seemed relatively consistent between the first half the season vs the second half. Hits, giveaways, and SAT% were not that drastically different. Shots were down slightly and shooting% was way down. I think confidence was a big part of the problem which was compounded by the Oilers’ overall bad year. Playing with a lack of confidence can impact a players’ jump and hustle level. I don’t think its unreasonable to have an expectation of Lucic, both through his own initiative and better play around him, performs much closer to the player from the first 3 months of the season than the last 3 months of the season.

    • TKB2677

      Are you actually saying that with any objectivity or just stating that because you don’t like him? Before last season, he’s been a 20 goal 50 pt guy his whole career. That is top 6 numbers.

  • OffTheNever

    Can’t see this will happen.
    Lucic is slow, can’t skate,can’t pass, can’t retrieve a pass, can’t shoot, can’t playmake.
    He will have to get extremely lucky deflecting pucks as a pylon standing in front of the net.

  • Cowboy Bill

    Lucic will start the season with Leon on the second line . What he does is up to him . If he’s demoted to the third line with Strome , he should still be fine as long as he continues to work . He will still get PP time , points will come . He will be a force no matter what .

  • Odanada

    Looch needs to dig deep and do it for his father.
    There are a few demons Milan needs to put to bed and a good season will surely help.
    Bear down big guy; you can do this.

  • Rama Lama

    I agree with the basic premise of this article. Too much thought and attention has gone into this player. I never once thought Lucic was going to be a offensive saviour, past, present and future.

    He is supposed to be a physical deterrent that drive other players crazy………as soon as he stops believing his own hype and starts playing a more physical brand of hockey, the points will come.

  • Vanoil

    I remember a game early in the season last year where Lucic took a puck off his skates and tried to out skill a defender 1v1, and very nearly succeeded but lost the puck off his stick after he had already cut to the net. His hands had let him down. Immediately following the miscue, however unfortunate, he struggled to get back in the play defensively and didn’t have the line-mates he needed to bail him out. Though it didn’t end up as a goal against, Lucic was gassed “trying” to get back defensively, and immediately headed to the bench. At that point I knew he was caught as a out-dated player in a changing league. That is the very play he needs to be able to execute and respond from when the execution goes awry, if he wants to stay in this league as a “power forward”. Can he adjust now? I think all of OIL country would like him to but the reality is the league has changed one way, and he has changed (for better or worse) another. This isn’t a knock on the individual, who by all accounts is a pretty stand-up guy; but if you are looking to build confidence, you simply cannot put him in that position again, as it is setting him up to fail, which will kill any confidence he may have left. Can he still play a third or fourth line role? Ultimately that depends on the quality of opposition he plays against in those roles — last year the number of teams icing a quality third line went up remarkably, it would be naive to expect “no-skill energy third lines” in the league this year. The skill and speed level is increasing across all lines, there are simply to many quality players out there competing for jobs.

  • TKB2677

    To anyone that says Lucic is slow and can’t skate. He had 254 hits last year. If you are too slow, you can’t skate and you can’t keep up with the play, you aren’t getting 254 hits. I am by no means saying that Lucic is a burner, skating isn’t has never been his strong point and never will be. But if he was truly unable to stay in the play, he either wouldn’t be getting credit for as many hits OR he’d be getting a TON of interference penalties because he’d be hitting guys without the puck because it’s long gone.

  • #97TRAIN

    I’d like to see Milan really ramp it up physically in the first month of the season. He plays his best hockey when he’s running around.
    When he’s involved physically the points will follow.
    Give him a shot on the left side with McDavid and Nuge and go hard to the net and play nasty.

  • I only watched a few Oiler games last year, and in those games, I kept an eye on Milan. His play was awful. It’s like the man forgot how to play hockey. I recall writing a comment saying something like Lucic needs to go back to hockey school and re-learn the basics. Everything went wrong for him.

    The answer IMO lies here: The coach has to put Lucic in a position to succeed. McDavid is not the right fit, so he has to play elsewhere. Don’t worry about his salary or contract at this time. Just play him in a position he can handle, with players that suit his style. That may be on fourth line.
    Obviously, Lucic needs to look in the mirror and address any shortcomings he sees, and do something about it. He has to find a way to play through this and when his value goes up, new doors open.

  • CMG30

    I agree that Lucic will bounce back. As you say, it’s virtually impossible for him to be this bad again. The real question is how much…

    You see him as around a 45 point guy, I’m a little more pessimistic, I see about 20-30 points because he was struggling to keep up at the best of times and now he’s another year older while the game keeps getting faster. It may be time for the coaches to deploy him as more of a specialty player such as more PP time where he can stand in front of the net and retrieve pucks along the boards but reduce his 5v5 time to allow him to conserve a bit more energy. If teams start trying to push the Oilers around then turn him loose to punch some faces.

  • Bills Bills

    Not only is Milan Lucic a smart hockey player who knows where to be, he is a physical specimen. We are lucky he is an Oiler and when he is in he is a difference maker. That is not going to change because he is 30. Anyone who calls for the Oilers to dump him at any cost, is for lack of a better term, dumb. You truly have no idea on how to evaluate a hockey player. Lucic needs to get his head back in the game but he is smart enough to play on this teams top six and 30 other teams top six. If his head is straight next year, he gets back to 50 points.

  • Arfguy

    The way I see it, we are stuck with Lucic. Rather than trying to get rid of him and using sweeteners to do so, retain him and use him sparingly.

    There is a chance that he could bounce back. We are weak on the wings. We should not get rid of a winger by adding pieces. We should be using what we have.

    IMO, Chiarelli had a decent off-season. I think he made some smart moves, given the constraints. I think if he were to go with the following lines, he could potentially get some results:

    RNH-McDavid-Rattie
    Rieder-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi
    Lucic-Strome-Caggiula
    Khaira-Brodziak-Kassian
    Aberg as the 13th forward