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Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

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Back in September before this season began, Milan Lucic talked about regaining his confidence and scoring touch, about putting a miserable and frustrating second half to his 2017-18 season with the Edmonton Oilers behind him.

“Everyone starts with a clean sheet,” Lucic told Mark Spector of Sportsnet. “Guys have had tough years for decades. It’s about how you bounce back. How you clear your mind and move forward. It’s havin’ fun again. Making the most of our opportunity. Love the game, love the sport.

“As Wayne (Gretzky) always says, it’s such a great game, and the game has given all of us so much. There’s that little kid in you, and you’ve got to find that again and come to the rink having fun. That’s one of the things I worked on more than anything.

“I struggled with my confidence last year. Just going back and watching tape of yourself making plays (helps). Carrying the puck through the neutral zone. Moving your feet with the puck in the O zone. Taking the play on your own versus waiting for everything to happen.”

WAITING ON MILAN

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Despite a season in which he scored just 10-24-34 through 82 games, including a 46-game stretch in which he scored just one goal and too often looked like he’d forgotten the attributes that landed him in Edmonton as one of the NHL’s best power forwards in the first place, I fully expected Lucic to bounce back in a big way this season. 

Lucic’s track record – five seasons of 20-or-more goals and 50-or-more points – and the pride he takes in his game led me to believe he would make the most of that “clean sheet. That his confidence would return. That we’d see the kind of player that prompted GM Peter Chiarelli to sign him to a seven-year contract worth $42 million as an unrestricted free agent. I’d have bet the house on it.

Here we are 13 games into this season with the Oilers playing in Washington tonight, and I haven’t seen, no matter how hard I look, any significant uptick from what we saw in the second half of last season. There’s been some better shifts here and there, sure, but in terms of something I can point to, in terms of numbers that matter, it just hasn’t been there so far.

With 1-3-4 in the 13 games he’s played, 1-2-3 of that coming on the power play, Lucic is actually behind his points-per-game pace of last season (.41) with .31 PPG. His only goal came in the first game of the season against New Jersey. He’s gone 12 games without another one, giving him two goals in his last 59 games going back to last season. Lucic’s CF% of 48.7 is the lowest of his career (he’s averaged 53.8).

THE BOTTOM LINE

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

Yes, it’s early. No, Corsi isn’t the be-all and end-all of advanced stats. And, no, I don’t care about the money – it matters against the cap, but it’s not my dough and I try not to look at Lucic through that lens. That said, I haven’t seen the return of the player I expected to put last season behind him – productive, robust, confident and get the hell out of my way or I’ll break your face. That guy.

The Oilers need that version of Lucic. As much I believed we’d see it, it just hasn’t happened beyond a flash here or there to this point in the season – not at even-strength, not on the power play. Just five months past his 30th birthday, I simply don’t believe the Lucic so many believed was a perfect fit for the Oilers – not the length of the contract, but the player — is gone for good. I await the return.

Prove me right, big man. Show us something.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • McHughes

    Another Lucic article.

    Can we please stop with these. Been beaten to death here.

    If the team is winning who cares. We have an enforcer who makes sure no liberties are taken with our stars

    Move on to something else.

      • Towers-of-dub

        Do you think he’s just given up on being an effective NHL player? is he just collecting his guaranteed money, on an untradeable contract, but really has no intention of playing NHL level hockey?He’s essentially in semi-retirement because he can’t take the emotional toll his role on the oilers has? You’ve been around the game a long time. How often have you seen a marquee player check out 2 years into a 7 year contract? If you think he’s capable of playing NHL level hockey, they only explanation for his drop in performance has to be that he’s not that interested in the job any more. any thoughts?

      • Kneedroptalbot

        Even though the team came up short in Washington tonight, I thought Lucic put in an good honest effort. He skated hard and even had a few good chances (would prob like the one he shot wide from the slot back).
        Good on Milan.

  • Towers-of-dub

    I actually thought he’d looked more engaged thru the first 8 games even if the points weren’t coming. When i read the player ratings on Cult of Hockey, he’s usually running 5’s and 6’s, which is all i’d expect from him.
    I often wonder when we see a player in a bit of a decline like this, how much is due to something about which we have no knowledge. It just doesn’t seem likely that he’s playing out a 7 yr contract, collecting a cheque, but he doesn’t actually want to be an NHL

  • Abagofpucks

    Although lucic is still being that fearsome presence that keeps the other team’s honest, he’s not producing points wise. I hope he can step it up soon we need him too.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    A question (that is not targeted at you Robin). How many times has Connor been injured since Milan has joined the team? How many times have players on opposing teams have decided to take a run at our stars since Lucic joined the team. How many times did Nashville want to deal with a Lucic. Do I want Milan to bag 20 goals and 50 points? Of course I do, but only because there needs to be a justification of his contract. But he was brought in for one job. Protect our young guns. And that’s exactly what he’s done. His presence alone makes most players think twice.

    • Ratt McNuge

      That’s not a bad point. Would the Oilers have no Milan Lucic and a hurt McDavid, or have Milan Lucic and a healthy McDavid. The choice is pretty clear.

    • BobbyCanuck

      Hear hear! That’s what I have been saying, I don’t care about what he earns, all I care about is that Second One ( what do you think of this pet name? We had the Great One, and now we have the Second One? I like it) has not been rag dolled and injured, and he may never be as long as Looch is around, yes we have a few players that can throw them JJ, Kas, Nurse, Larsson fights like a man on fire…but none of them offer the Nuclear Deterrent like the Looch

    • hockey1099

      I carry a rock around that protects me from tiger attacks. I have never been attacked by a tiger while carrying this rock. I will sell it to you for 6mil per year.

    • I, as much as anybody on this site, appreciate the deterrent that a physical, tough player like Lucic can provide. That said, to suggest Lucic was brought in for one job — to provide that deterrent — and nothing more is ridiculous. You can get somebody to take care of that and get you 20-30 points for a lot less than $6 million a year for seven years. Of course he was brought in to provide more than that.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Is there a contract on McDavid? Lucic is apparantly the only reason why McDavid isn’t getting hurt. Playing on the 3rd line isn’t going to protect McDavid from injury, it won’t even protect him from getting his hands slashed. Slasher (or designated tough guy) may have to fight Lucic later, but that’s about it.

  • Oil DAWG

    I agree he really isn’t contributing much. I was hoping at least he would be parking in front of the net or banging and crashing, sadly no. Nurse is way more then an enforcer then he is.

  • Deezy

    Lucic came here for one last big pay day. He thought he was going to slide in next to Connor and score 30 goals without putting in any work. He somehow conned his buddy Chia into locking him in that horrible contract, which essentially paved the way for Hall to be dealt. Our best hope to get out of that contract is for him to retire in the next couple of years. 3rd line winger being paid $6M for the next 5 years – one of the worst UFA deals of all-time.

      • Kneedroptalbot

        Come on man, Deezy made a really good point.
        A simple question, who would you rather have for the next 5 years,
        (@ 6M) Milan Lucic or Taylor Hall? Lucic got his last big contract, NJ got Taylor Hall.

  • Ratt McNuge

    We’ll see how the rest of the season plays out, but it’s highly likely Lucic is just washed up and has fallen behind the pace of today’s game. It happens. Can’t fault Chia for signing him, but, ugh, that contract is a nightmare.

    • Mo Playoffs Mo Problems

      We can definitely fault Chia for signing him. Not overpaying free agents and planning cap management are 2 pretty damn crucial parts of being a decent GM.

      • Bigdaddypuck

        I don’t he was the most sought after free agent of the summer when he was signed. He had offers from Montreal and Los Angeles for the same money he chose the Oilers. I expected a drop off in year three the problem is he already has dropped off offensively for whatever ever reason, that I don’t think you could move him to a contender or a team trying to qualify for playoffs. We are stuck with the contract.

  • Ty Guy

    i can count way more times per game the play ends on the stick of Lucic than it evolves. its sad to see how many clappers off the glass in the D zone, passes to nobody and lost puck battles he coughs up..fair to say he is a rich mans version of Zack Kassian? i cant believe i am saying this (especially after he took all Gags teeth out when he was a canuck) but….i take Kassian over Lucic any day.

  • Stinky Mitt to the Face

    There is no chance he scores 50 points on the third line. The benchmark should be around 30 points. I have a bigger issue with Stromes offence; no offence. Looch has been playing well enough. Both him and Strome are unlucky not to have at least a few more points.

  • elliotsmom

    Lucic is a very proud man and plays with emotion. All of us want to see more from him and are disappointed that we are not seeing the results from him we are looking for. I’m sure it bothers him a helluva lot more that it bothers us that he isn’t showing up on the score sheet.

      • The future never comes

        For protection we could bring back McIntyre for 650,000 out of retirement. That 6 million dollar payday is going to be the reason soon we are going to have to let go of actual point producers on the team – see Maroon for example.

  • What the Puck

    Let the big man play out the season. If he fails. We buy him out. Chia handcuffed us on this one. What is done is done. Just do us a favor and please move him off the 1pp unit. If a big body is necessary, try Kaira. Lucic just isn’t ideal for special teams anymore.

  • The future never comes

    I’m sorry Brownlee, but I accepted the fact that this is what Lucic is at this point. I do not foresee a huge rebound, his effort is better for sure and he is not leaking goals against, but I can’t see him reaching past 10 goals any more. Unfortunately, for 6 million- we needs goals, assists, hits, and leadership- not “he looks more engaged”. Those are objective thoughts based on his play not the contract.

      • The future never comes

        Yeah, Chia has created these contracts so he will be tasked with getting rid of them. He will need to put on his thinking cap to get creative, not sure if it could be done but that’s why he is 1 of 31 NHL GM’s in the world getting paid millions.

  • Heschultzhescores

    Lucic still gets little interest from other teams engaging him. I think that speaks volumes. Rather have him on our team than playing against him. He is playing decent, not sure what the problem is. We are winning, the guys feel confident with him on the bench. Why rock a stable ship?

    • The future never comes

      How can you verify that he gets interest? Because goals lead to wins, he is not getting goals/assists, so they are not really winning because of him. He is a beneficiary of playing on a winning team right now.

      • Heschultzhescores

        Not evryone’s job is to get goals. If we brought Looch here for that reason then somebody missed the boat. He is doing exactly what he us supposed to do. A few more goals would be nice but he is not the only one you could say that about. HD will score some big goals and the haters will high five and forget.

  • btrain

    Not saying Lucic lacks intelligence but I think its safe to suggest a lot of his previous success came from outworking/overpowering his opponent as opposed to out-thinking his opponent. Another way to look at it, Lucic is a player who found success by creating time and space for himself/teammates while also having great offensive instincts.

    Unfortunately, it seems just a slight reduction in physical ability, along with a league that is only getting faster, has left Lucic’s instinctual habits a split second behind rather than ahead of the opponent. For Lucic, the passing lanes are a clear example of this as they are already closed by the time his instinct to move the puck kicks in.

    Anyway, I am still pulling for Lucic and that he can adapt and simplify his game. However, his determination to continually try and force passes through opponents and constantly turn the puck over, is evidence of a deep set instinct that he probably would have curbed by now if he could.

  • ellebee

    Go back & watch Lucic’s exit interview from the end of last season. It’s full of excuses and yeah buts… I’m afraid he’s got a lofty attitude that doesn’t match his aging body.

  • Reinman

    Lucic looks like a T-Rex out there as soon as his body moves, his short arms move and he loses the puck. HE has 0 ability to absorb a hit without losing the puck, like Leon does all the time. Lucic is done, his contract is what will keep McJesus from winning a Stanley cup. I am not complainging about the Hall deal ( although we certainly lost that one too), but if we would have kept that cap space in our back pocket we could have been in the running for multiple good forawards. I would have like to have seen Marleau, Duschene, Ennis, Neal, Domi, etc etc, on our team way before Lucic. Look at all the good players who have moved around, that we could have taken a shot at, had we kept that 6 million in cap space. This contract is crushing the team. What if we actually had a player worth 6 million a year playing with Drai? We would all of a sudden have 2 lines that would be dangerous 5 on 5.

  • Soccer Steve

    The speed of the game is way up.
    The aggression and intimidation factor is being evolved out of the game.

    Not good arrows for him. I don’t see it turning around.

  • TKB2677

    I have thought Lucic has been a lot better than last year. Last year he wasn’t scoring but he also wasn’t hitting, wasn’t doing anything defensively and not even getting chances offensively. This season he is hitting a ton, he’s engaged, he’s made some key defensive plays and he is getting chances. He’s been stone many, many times on really good chances. However, he has to start scoring at least some.

    I haven’t minded him being with Strome. He and Strome seem to generate some chances every game but they can’t convert at all. If the 2 of them even converted on half of the chances they generate, no one would be saying anything.