Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

An Improved Lucic?

The Edmonton Oilers have played 16 games since the calendar flipped to 2019 and in that span, Milan Lucic has scored four goals and added two assists. In the first 39 games of the season, he had one goal and seven assists.

To put it a different way, in the first 39 games, Lucic was producing at a pace that works out to about two goals and 14 assists over an 82 game stretch. Since January 1st, he’s been producing at a 20 goal, 10 assist pace when prorated to 82 games.

That seems to have taken some of the heat off of Lucic. When he’s struggling, he becomes a bit of a whipping boy among most fans and media. It’s fair, after all, the guy is making $6 million. Based on his pay, he should be a driving force behind the Oilers offence.

Of course, it’s rarely been that way since he slipped on an Oilers jersey for the first time, and the 2018 calendar year was an especially tough one for #27 but since the new year, I’ve noticed some mistakes start to evaporate from his game and he appears to be turning a corner.

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The goals are great, but I’ve also noticed that he isn’t turning over pucks at the same rate as he did earlier this season and I’ve noticed him making smarter, confident plays with the puck on his stick. That has resulted in his line spending more time in the offensive zone and an uptick in his offensive production.

Has Lucic actually turned a corner? Or did the general feeling on his play change simply because he banged home a couple of goals? I looked into some numbers to get some more details.

Month GP Individual Scoring Chances For Per 60 Individual Goals Individual Assists On Ice Goals Against Per 60 On Ice Scoring Chances Against Per 60 On Ice Scoring Chances For Per 60
OCT 11 7.5 1 3.5 25.6 22.9
NOV 13 7.1 1 1.5 21.7 27.4
DEC 14 5.3 3 2.3 29.4 21.1
JAN 11 5.4 3 2.3 16.4 20.9
FEB 5 4.6 2 2.7 22.1 32.3

*all at even strength*

In January, which most Oilers fans would say was been Lucic’s best month of the season, the Oilers gave up far fewer chances at even strength, but individually, Lucic didn’t produce much more in terms of scoring chances, although he scored more goals in the month than the rest of the season combined.

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To me, that shows that he simply got a little bit of better puck luck. As for the drop in scoring chances against, you could attribute that to him playing more with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins instead of Kyle Brodziak. The zone starts would also play a role.

February has been his arguably his worst month of the season when you look at the numbers I laid out, but the whole team has been awful and I’m not going to put all of the blame on Lucic.

I don’t mean to rip open a big “eye test vs analytics” debate, because I value both, but after looking through the numbers, I’m a little bit less enthralled with Lucic’s play than I was before. Is he actually playing better, or is his game full of what I call “empty calories”? Meaning he does things that look good, but they clearly aren’t attributing to any real success.

While it was nice to see him bang in a couple of goals, and I hope he can jam home ten more before game 82 rolls around, it’s also important that Lucic continues to avoid turning over the puck in his own end and keeps making positive strides in terms of his play in the offensive zone.

I do value the leadership that Lucic brings and I would agree that his physical play is a positive attribute, but the team needs offence from the guy they’re paying $6 million.

Again, based on what I was seeing from watching the games, Lucic was starting to look like a more confident player and I was hoping the numbers would back up what I was seeing. All the numbers really showed me was that for a brief stretch, he went from being painfully horrible to simply mediocre and that isn’t enough. He needs to keep building on this recent stretch.

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Based on the Twitter poll I ran yesterday, most of you seem to agree with me.

Now, the ship has sailed on Lucic ever being a $6 million player, but they still need more from him. Even more than what we’ve seen since January.

He needs to continue hitting and playing physical and also find a way to keep the play moving up ice when he gets in his own zone. If he can keep doing that and combine with smart playmaking in the offensive zone, then it should lead to more scoring chances for both he and his linemates which will lead to more goals.

I make it sound more simple than it is, but I’m seeing Lucic do a lot of little things right when I watch the games. For the first time in a while, I’m slightly confident that if he can keep doing those little things, we’ll see his numbers improve.

  • El Oilero

    He can’t get much worse. Given he has a NMC and makes so much no one would take him AND he has a buy put proof contract, let’s hope he gets better. Lucic is old and has a retirement contract. He will never be worth the money. Lucic ties up so much cap space with so little benefit he is a large part of why the Oilers are a mess. (Add Sekera eating 5.5M, Russell eating $4M and now Koskinen will take 4.5).

  • Serious Gord

    Do please cite evidence of lucic’s leadership.

    All I see is scowl and inconsistent effort. And never do I recall him rising to the occasion- most recently when mcdavid got knicked not once but twice.

      • polarcap

        Oil best to move on from Chia. The season is done.
        The good news is that the condors are in the midst of a 12 winning streak. I would keep the core of that team together and go for the Calder. As soon as the Oil season is done, send JP down for a culture change and to build confidence. Bouchard can join as soon as the Memorial Cup is done. JW talks about winning being a skill. If these young players gain confidence and learn how to win, forget going after free agents. Next year could see a new young core of supplemental players – Benson, Legassi, Jones, Bear, Marody, Bouchard that will compete for spots next year.

        The oil’s position will see them in the top 10 pick at the draft. Pick for need.

  • Zav19

    You have to be kidding. The fact of Lucic and leadership in the same sentence is absolute joke!! He is the cancer in the room and the minute he requested trade he should have been stripped of his letter. The Oilers are a joke for letting this stuff happen

  • hagar

    Lucic is one piece of many that arent playing to their worth. One thing i noticed myself is that he seems to have like ten seconds of energy, then is looking for a line to the bench for a change. He was touted for weight loss and efforts towards conditioning last off season, but not sure it paid off.

      • hagar

        Well you cant just play someone because they are being paid too much. Hopefully he gains some more momentum and becomes useful, but i can see a day coming, if not nearly here, when it makes sense to healthy scratch/buyout and eat his 6 million simply to open a roster spot.
        As depressing as it is, would you rather pay 6 million a year for 15 points a year, or healthy scratch/buyout and pay someone else 3 million a year for 40 points?

        • El Oilero

          There is the Orpik option. Trade him with something valuable and let the new team buy him out right away. Orpik was traded with Grabaur and then immediately bought out.

  • polarcap

    Not sure if Lucic is a negative factor in the room. However, he is the elephant in the room. He shields the younger players from taking full accountability for their performances. Getting rid of Lucic will change the culture of the team. He is a company man_ praising Chia for his work. The vacumn created will require some of the younger players to step up and be accountable.

  • Todd the electron rod

    I see the problem here.
    The fanbase expects a $6 million player to play to play like a $6 million player.
    No wonder nobody wants to play in Edmonton!

  • Ted

    The only saving grace with Lucic is if he will wave his NMC before next season! Other wise this unbelievably bad contract will haunt this organization till 2023. …. That’s a long time to wait for a turn around with this club! … Talbot also has to be moved before the deadline! … With both of these dead weight players out of the system then maybe there can be talk of playoffs in this town again!

  • madjam

    Lucic is in best shape of all oilers again this year , as per his test for body fat . His fortay is more for physical playoff hockey , and thus regular season not always to his benefit despite being in best shape of all the Oilers . Feel sorry for Milan , as he generally tries real hard to compensate for his weaknesses in todays game .

    • Todd the electron rod

      Try to watch some hockey this year.
      Not often you will hear about the body fat ability of the game.
      Today it’s the “cerebral vision” of the game.
      It’s about the speed of how one “processes the game”.
      It’s how one “sees the game”.
      Lucic might try real hard but he doesn’t accomplish anything noteworthy.

  • Soccer Steve

    Everyone and their dog knew this contract was too long the day it was announced. The very second a compliance buyout is granted to teams he will be bought out. Immediately and without hesitation. Until then we can do nothing but wait.

  • Axe

    I think one of the top priorities of the new GM would be to deal with the Lucic contract .. And I say that as a big Lucic fan. I know it sounds like it’s mission impossible but that has to be a priority.. I supported and defended Lucic during his slump but the fact is the new NHL is about speed and talent and Lucic lacks both. Some will argue that Lucic brings a physical edge to the game which can be helpful to intimidate other teams and in the playoffs. The counter point to that is that before we worry about how well we do in the playoffs we have to actually get in. Also where was Lucic when cgy both beat us and beats us up last match up. I don’t care if hitch didn’t give him green light or mcdavid doesn’t want guys fighting for him, when Connor was cut Lucic should have been out for blood! Especially since the game was effectively over after the second period.

      • nijames

        Lucic is no longer an NHL calibre player, Bettman hasn’t killed guys like Lucic, he can’t keep up physically or mentally to the speed of the game Play dies on his stick 90% of the time Not a good skater and hits only mean they are chasing the play all the time. Not a good statistic at all

  • OldOilFan

    Lighten up, folks. It’s hardly Looch’s fault that he’s being paid $6M.
    The money was readily offered to him – and a deal’s a deal.

    So two questions logically beg:

    1. Has Milan deliberately become a “floater” since signing here?
    Personally, I don’t believe so. A true floater would not have chosen to sign in Edmonton.

    2. Is Milan’s $6M -and no other player(s) contract(s)- REALLY the sole iceberg sinking the $82M Oiler Titanic?
    Again, I don’t believe so.

    The roster is a blend of 23 ingredients. In this case, it’s the recipe that sucks.

  • Total Points

    The Oiler are a very unhappy bunch for being called out, especially Drai. Either they respond and play great for the rest of the season or they are not mentally tough enough and fold .
    The road trip will show what kind of players the Oilers have. (and the kind that Chai recruited)

  • gwright

    Forgive me if I understand this incorrectly. Last year there was talk about Lucic being easier to trade after his bonus is paid. This coming summer, he’s getting $3mill in bonus. After that he has 4 years left with actual income of 16 mill over the next 4 years. He would still carry a 6 mill hit against the cap over that time. Could you see a team like Carolina, who typically stays away from the cap ceiling, being interested in Lucic at 4 x 4 in real dollars? They’re a team with an internal budget looking to change their “culture” it’s almost the perfect fit.

  • Gravis82

    Sure, let’s take the 10 games and extrapolate that because it’s a good narrative.


    He contributed to this team missing the playoffs by not scoring in the first 1/2. Doesn’t matter what he does in the second. Stats are a full year. Doesn’t matter if you are streaky. 40 goals is 40 goals, 5 goals is 5 goals

    • Heschultzhescores

      That is a fact. His game wakes up when he gets physical. When he gets a penalty everytime hs lays someone out, he is unable to get fully enraged and engaged.