Milan Lucic’s contract was always poor. The list of big deals signed in the 2016 free-agency period is who’s who of terrible contracts.
Richest UFA deals signed on July 1, 2016:
Milan Lucic, 7 yrs, $42M
Kyle Okposo, 7 yrs, $42M
Andrew Ladd, 7 yrs, $38.5M
Loui Eriksson, 6 yrs, $36M
Frans Nielsen, 6 yrs, $31.25M
David Backes, 5 yrs, $30M
Darren Helm, 5 yrs, $19.25M
Troy Brouwer, 4 yrs, $18M
What a day.
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) August 3, 2018
Troy Brouwer’s already been bought out by Calgary. Lucic holds the only 50-point season of the group and even that was carried by an unsustainable year on the power play. Still, those points count but his 5-on-5 production was a concern he was trending the wrong way in year one of a giant contract.
Lucic scored a career-high 12 goals and 13 assists on the man advantage in 2016-17. Lucic’s power play points fell back to normal in 2017-18, scoring 8 points. 5-on-5 Lucic hasn’t been a difference maker in Edmonton. His 1.2 points per 60 since signing in Edmonton is the same as Joel Ward, Tyler Ennis, Alan Quine, Brendan Perlini, and Remi Elie.
Points per 60 measures a player’s production over their ice time and multiplied to 60 minutes. Top-line talent generally score around 2 points per 60, where Lucic hovered for most of his time with Boston and Los Angeles. In Edmonton, he’s scored like a third or fourth-line player 5-on-5.
Lucic’s career 5-on-5 scoring almost mirrors what you’d expect from a regular aging curve of a good NHL scorer. 2014-15 saw a dip but he recovered briefly in Los Angeles, although his 16% shooting percentage probably helped. Lucic’s aggressive decline might be a bit surprising, he’s only 30, but his body has a lot of miles on it. He’s over 900 NHL games played, including playoffs, and a power-forward style of play doesn’t help either.
Lucic’s contract was always going to be a problem. The hope was the Oilers could get a few good years before the problem years in year four or five, but it’s arguably been that since day one. If you squint hard year one is likely the only good year the Oilers will yield from Lucic’s seven-year contract.
In some way Lucic made it clear he’d be amicable to a move from Edmonton. The Oilers did not which presented a problem: if Lucic had an even worse year moving him becomes almost impossible.
A new collective-bargaining agreement could be their way out. The NHL and the NHLPA have the option to opt out of the current CBA, which would occur expire September 2020. There’s a good chance teams will have two compliance buyouts available to them. The Oilers could simply wait two years and rid themselves of the final three years of Lucic’s contract without any cap implications. The problem is if he already looks done now, what will he look like in a year? Plus, these are Connor McDavid’s prime years and allocating $6-million to a slow, bottom-six player that can’t contribute 5-on-5 doesn’t help you win.
Lucic is on pace for 24 points. This is what he is. Similarly poor contracts have been traded, but the best option might be to lower his minutes and wait for that compliance buyout. McLellan already started that. Lucic hasn’t played over 14 minutes in the last seven games.
The Bruins have their $6-million disappointment on the fourth line. That might be where Lucic is headed. Lucic and Draisaitl were a mismatch. Lucic and Strome aren’t much better. 5-on-5 they’ve been outscored 0-3 and Strome has one point, which came 4-on-4 with Caggiula.
The Oilers need to be better when McDavid’s on the bench. They can’t give up everything he creates when the other three lines are out. Lucic hasn’t helped. A stint on the fourth line should be next.