The Edmonton Oilers could put Milan Lucic’s $6-million cap hit to better use. Lucic has 11 points in his last 74 games. He’s on pace for 15 points this season.
There were strong indications Lucic’s camp asked for a trade last season. I thought if you could move Lucic without retaining salary or giving up a really good asset, you’d be crazy not to. Sure, he might have returned to a 40-point player, but Lucic’s 5-on-5 production has dropped off significantly as an Oiler. He’d still be overpaid as a 40-point forward.
What can the Oilers do now that he’s on an even worse pace than his 34-point season last year?
A buyout is the least preferable option. Lucic’s contract is loaded with signing bonuses making a buyout less enticing.
The Oilers gain immediate savings next season with a Lucic buyout, but years two and four offer almost no difference. There’s an argument (paywall) they should still do it. If Lucic is a 10-20-point guy going forward, you can find those players on professional tryouts every September. Lucic holds a no-move clause so he can’t be placed on waivers or traded without his permission.
It ends a bad situation, but with minimal cap relief.
NHL teams keep letting other NHL teams off the hook for signing terrible contracts. The Leafs traded David Clarkson and Dion Phaneuf without retaining salary. Amusingly, Phil Kessel was the one contract they did retain on and he’s easily the best player they traded. Phaneuf’s been traded again to Los Angeles for the injured Marian Gaborik and his similarly awful contract.
I wonder if there’s a move where the Oilers take another poor contract back and buy out that contract out for a reduced cap hit. Karl Alzner is in the minors. Alzner has three more years at $4.625 million left after this season. Buying out Alzner is more manageable than buying out Lucic. There’s a big spike in year two, similar with a Lucic buyout, otherwise it’s four years of $1.069 million with a $2.194 million year in between.
A Phaneuf buyout is workable too.
Trading Phaneuf, both times, and Clarkson meant taking Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton’s contracts back respectively. Toronto traded Phaneuf to Ottawa for a bunch of overpaid guys with short term left on their contracts. I’m skeptical a similar deal exists for Lucic, as the Leafs pumped up Phaneuf’s value before trading him, but maybe there’s an old-school general manager that still values Lucic.
The most popular option is simply waiting two years for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and hoping for a compliance buyout, which would rid the Oilers of the last three years of Lucic’s contract with zero cap penalties.
But there is no guarantee that compliance buyouts will come with a new CBA and that requires holding onto a significantly declining player during McDavid’s prime years.
Seattle is another popular option, but that would require two things: Lucic waiving his no-move clause and the Oilers sending significant assets to Seattle to take Lucic.
The New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets had to yield a first and second-round pick for Vegas to take their bad contracts in Mikhail Grabovski and David Clarkson, but they were basically retired due to injuries.
What would Edmonton have to package with their 20-point winger who doesn’t look headed for injured reserve anytime soon? Lucic hasn’t missed more than three games a season since 2009-10, his third year in the NHL.
Seattle wants to be competitive and that’s not surprising with Vegas’ success. Adding an expensive fourth-line winger who doesn’t skate particularly well feels contrary to that goal.
Moving Lucic will be extremely difficult. It’s clear the Oilers should have traded Lucic last summer if there was any deal that returned a player with a lesser cap hit or term.
Lucic’s contract remains one of Chiarelli’s biggest mistakes in his time as Oilers general manager. Moving Lucic will be a mighty task for Chiarelli’s successor.