Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Milan Lucic: 2018-19 Season in Review

Well, this is gonna be a tough one. There’s no preamble to frame this in a way that’ll put anyone at ease so let’s just get to it…. yadda-yadda-yadda… 2018-19 season in review: Milan Lucic!!

79 6 14 20 13:14 74 8.1 106:07 4

By all accounts, this was a train-wreck of a season for Lucic. Tied for the third-highest salary amongst Oilers forwards, but while he and Nuge both incurred a $6.0 million cap hit last year, Milan finished miserably behind Sweet Ryan’s very very nice 69 points. He was ninth in even strength time and had powerplay opportunities, finishing seventh on the team on the man advantage. So how much worse did it look under the advanced counts’ magnifying glass?

(All counts are at Even Strength)

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CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF/GA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
51.00 48.83 50.33 168/169 49.85 18/17 51.43 6.94 .916 .985 44.93

Admittedly, these aren’t nearly as ugly as you’d expect. He was one of the few Oilers with a Corsi percentage north of 50 percent while on the ice, and helped create just as many high danger chances that were allowed, while also having the goalies look good. Lucic created chances, but just couldn’t finish them.

But, as always, these numbers can only tell so much of the story, so let’s look at how Milan performed relative to the rest of the team:

CF/60Rel CA/60Rel CF%Rel GF/60Rel GF%Rel SCF%Rel HDCF%Rel HDGF%Rel
2.54 -5.44 3.61 -0.79 -2.34 2.53 3.64 6.71

Honestly, this is shocking. He wasn’t nearly as much of an offensive black hole as you’d expect (certainly more than I expected), being more of a catalyst for the offence than a hindrance, and creating a stellar amount of high danger chances. It just doesn’t seem right. But I ran the report three or four times just to make sure, but it’s right.

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But still, the goals weren’t there and neither was the point totals. And for a $6 million man, “doing your best out there” just isn’t good enough, particularly on a team that’s nearly capped out and underperforming.

How bad exactly has the fall been for Lucic since the Oilers signed him in the summer of ’16?

Catastrophic. That’s falling off a cliff without even trying to turn around and try and grab the ledge.

Lucic is signed for four more years, with a $6 million cap hit. Not to mention that he has a full No Movement Clause, which will cause some issues sooner than one would like.

So as far as his age, cap hit, and point production are concerned, who does Lucic compare to some of his contemporaries around the league?

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Player Age GP Cap Hit Years Left Clause 18-19 Pts
Brock Nelson 27 82 6.0 6 Full NTC 25-28-53
Jason Zucker 27 81 5.5 4 10 Team NTC 21-21-42
Kyle Turris 29 55 6.0 5 7-16-23
Adam Henrique 29 82 5.825 5 10 Team NTC 18-24-42
Derek Stepan 29 72 6.5 2 15-20-35
Jordan Staal 30 50 6.0 4 Full NMC 11-17-28
James Van Riemsdyk 30 66 7.0 4 27-21-48
Cam Atkinson 30 80 5.875 5 Full NTC 41-28-69
Kyle Okposo 31 78 6.0 4 15 Team- NTC 14-15-29
James Neal 31 63 5.75 4 7-12-19
Bobby Ryan 32 78 7.25 3 Full NMC/NTC 15-27-42
T.J. Oshie 32 69 5.75 6 15 Team NTC 25-29-54
Alexander Radulov 32 70 6.25 3 Full NMC 29-43-72
Loui Eriksson 33 81 6.0 3 Full NTC 11-18-29
Paul Stastny 33 50 6.5 2 10 Team NTC 13-29-42
Brandon Dubinsky 33 61 5.85 2 10 Team NTC 6-8-14
Dustin Brown 34 72 5.875 3 7 Team NTC 22-29-51
Ryan Kesler 34 60 6.875 3 Full NMC 5-3-8
Travis Zajac 34 80 5.75 2 Full NTC 19-27-46
David Backes 35 70 6.0 2 8 Team NTC 7-13-20
Alexander Steen 35 65 5.75 2 Full NMC 10-17-27
Ilya Kovalchuk 35 64 6.25 2 Full NMC 16-18-34
Monday Mailbag - What about the asterisk?
(Cap numbers courtesy of puckpedia.com)

Those are a lot of names and a lot of numbers, and I’m certainly not going to get into all of them, but for interested minds, there they are. The purpose is to glean numbers from players who are making around the same amount as Lucic, while looking at the entire spectrum from the age when the Oilers signed him, to when the contract will expire and what we can maybe extrapolate and see how hard the fall from grace has been (and might be) for Milan.

Based on age, games played last year, and pay grade, Okposo or Staal are his closest comparables and they’re actually (depressingly) close to one another as far as production is concerned–though Staal was hurt and could be considered more versatile as a two-way centre. There are players who are outperforming for their age, or contract (I didn’t even bother to include guys like Nathan MacKinnon, Filip Forsberg, or David Pastrnak), but with his pay scale, reasonable expectations for fans would be content with Van Riemsdyk or even Henrique numbers. So Lucic is still 10-15 goals and/or 20-30 points short of what could be deemed acceptable output. He started out as a Brock Nelson and seems to be backsliding towards a David Backes at best, and a Ryan Kesler at worst.

So, what’s the deal? His individual counts were decent so where’d all the production go? Does it have something to do with the linemates Milan played with?

Let’s find out (Again, all counts are at Even Strength):

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w/ Zack Kassian

Even Strength TOI Together: 237:54

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CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF/GA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
50.68 38.46 49.01 42/44 48.84 1/4 20.00 4.31 .929 .972 38.35

If I would’ve had to guess who Lucic’s number one linemate was, it would’ve taken me at least a starting lineup worth of names before I would’ve landed on Kassian. Either way, these two had decent chemistry as far as the advanced counts go, with a positive percentage of Corsi chances considering how often they started out of the offensive zone (51 starts in the o-zone, and 83 apiece in the neutral and defensive zones FWIW) but an egregiously low shooting percentage. Allowed a few too many high danger chances, but the goalies performed well considering how often the face-offs were in their zone.

w/ Kyle Brodziak

Even Strength TOI Together: 235:18

CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF/GA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
51.11 27.27 45.89 43/51 45.74 2/4 33.33 2.61 .930 .956 34.87

Again, would never have guessed this would’ve been Lucic’s second-most-frequent skating partner, but here we are. And just like Kassian, these two also created just as many good chances, with a similar frequency of o-zone starts, most often starting in the defensive zone (52-90-99), while the goaltender performed well despite a disparity in high danger chances. But that shooting percentage is just abysmal, so there can’t be any surprise that goals were nowhere to be found in the back of the opponents net. Still, they didn’t allow a lot in their own net.

w/ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Even Strength TOI Together: 219:10

CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF/GA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
45.98 63.64 46.67 32/38 45.71 8/3 72.73 16.28 .922 1.084 42.64

The only linemate Lucic seemed to have the inverse of results with: unspectacular possession counts, but an insanely high shooting percentage. So these two could score goals together, while once again the goalies didn’t suffer behind them. Maybe Looch wasn’t the boat anchor playing with Nuge that it might’ve seemed…

Building a starting line-up from the top one-season wonders in Edmonton Oilers history

w/ Alex Chiasson

Even Strength TOI Together: 161:13

CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF/GA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
47.98 21.43 47.54 26/38 40.63 3/6 33.33 4.62 .871 .917 49.52

Really the only pedestrian linemate for Milan. An uninspiring Corsi percentage with no real goals to show for it and the goaltender really got hung out to dry despite one of the higher amount of o-zone starts.

w/ Ryan Strome

Even Strength TOI Together: 136:19

CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF/GA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
53.20 33.33 56.14 29/22 56.86 1/2 33.33 2.90 .929 .958 49.46

Though he’s long gone, it’s interesting to see much of the same here: an unexpectedly good Corsi percentage (in fact, almost elite) coupled with a comedically low shooting percentage, but the goalie looking really good behind them.

Final Thought

Apr 1, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic (27) celebrates his third period gaol against the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

You look at that picture, and it fills you with a sense of disappointment. Because Milan is such an easy player to want to cheer for. You hear Rogers Place erupt in a loud “LOOOOOOCH” howl whenever the guy scores a goal, drops the gloves, or even throws a big hit. It’s just so hard to embrace a guy who is perceived to be one of the dead-weight contracts that’s wasting Connor’s prime years.

It’s also hard to make sense of Lucic’s season based on his counts: by all measures he was doing his job, getting to high danger areas and creating chances but for whatever reason he just couldn’t finish regularly. He started a lot in the defensive zone, but rarely got pinned in his own end, never put his goalie in a bad situation and actually pushed the puck up the ice, but a relatively low personal and a criminally low on-ice shooting percentage yielded next to zero goals. Which, yes, is the whole point of this and at Lucic’s price-point, the result has to be goals, particularly when the Oilers’ depth scoring units are starved for goals. But, considering that the chances were there, but the results weren’t, can it be fair to say that Looch was just snake-bitten?

That’s the optimistic look. The pessimistic view (and, perhaps the realistic one) is that Lucic is signed to one of the worst value contracts in the NHL, and that even though his signing bonuses make it almost buy-out proof, some fans would be willing to bite the bullet just to free up the roster spot and sign a player to 1/6 the value of Lucic’s cap hit and contribute close to (or even exceed) what he’s delivering.

I personally think that would be ill-advised, as would be trading for Loui Eriksson (especially if a “sweeter” would need to be thrown in), a player who is two years older and was less effective in terms of possession and generating scoring chances than Milan last year and has struggled with injuries the last two out of three years. But what it comes down to is NHL Expansion. He has a NMC, that cannot be ignored, so he cannot be on the Oilers’ roster come the summer of ’21, because he’ll be protected during the Expansion Draft for the new Seattle franchise. At his current rate, it’s absurd to think that he would be worthy of that. So the question at this point really isn’t if Lucic should be moved, but a matter of when (and, frankly, HOW??). 

I truly believe that Oilers fans still want to love and embrace Milan Lucic, he’s just made it really really hard to do.

  • Captain Stubing

    Presuming he stays with the Oilers, I hope he’s fired up for next season and ready to destroy current members of the Flames, Nucks and whoever else gets in our way.

  • WhoreableGuy

    There’s a lot of talk about how slow Lucic is but in reality he still has good footspeed. He’s in great shape for his age but I think his issue has been controlling the puck, it seems like every time it’s on his stick he bobbles it or gets rid of it too quick because of how quick the game is now. How many times have we seen him coming in fast when he doesn’t have the puck, he’s actually a decent skater. Having more on ice training is exactly what he needs, maybe more puck handling and shooting skills. He has the physique to hold onto the puck more and make better plays, I can see him doing that this season.

    • HockeyYoda

      Yes, once the train gets going, his speed is OK. But it’s his quickness and edgework that’s his Achilles’ heel in terms of skating. Your bang on with your assessment of his puck skills. I’ve been watching him closely and it seems the play always dies when he’s needed. Whether it’s a 50-50 race to the puck or a bobbled pass. He doesn’t keep the play going. That’s why he belongs on the 4th line…if at all. Just go out there and crash and bang.

      • hagar

        He isnt slow, but he turns slow too quickly during a shift. He comes out flying, then 15 seconds later, he looks slow.

        Effort followed by inability is the way I see him during a shift.

        • HockeyYoda

          I agree Hagar, and I don’t know who the people are watching that gave you thumbs down… but maybe they think everyone on this team is just awesome and it’s only bad luck we don’t win.

  • Abagofpucks

    It really is all on Lucic, nobody can make him train with skills coaches nobody can make him try to train to play quicker and make faster decisions on the ice. I don’t think his speed is all that bad and yes he does get good scoring chances but he just can’t seem to finish.

    I lost on him as is everybody, so its all on him to change our minds.

    • FutureGM

      our 3rd and 4th line will be interchangable given the talent level. That being said, Lucic and Khaira could be a possession dynamo. Just don’t get scored against, lines 1 & 2 win GF/GA and we would be sitting pretty…assuming special teams don’t suck… big assumption at this point, sadly

  • Abagofpucks

    Plus if he really wants out of here he would tell management he’s willing to wave his nmc and be willing to go anywhere. Because if he did i’m sure we could move him out.

  • The future never comes

    If all the numbers point to Lucic being a supreme player as you alluded too, then I shall stick with the good ol’ fashioned eye test thank you very much.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    I know there were pictures out there with Lucic on crutches, what I wonder was did he have an injury during the season that was hampering his skating or ability to push off. The Oilers never really said much about why Lucic was on crutches, but makes me wonder if something happened to him during the season and the decision was made to look after it after the season

  • Consultant

    He should be motivated this summer. Heard he is working with a skills coach and is spending more time on ice versus gym time. Too bad everyone has written him off, he could improve this coming year, no?

      • Ken Holland

        The difference between Lucic having another terrible season and a decent season is a few good bounces.

        If Tippett uses him as an upfront presence on the pp, he could get off to a good start.

        Itll be tough though if Brodziak is his Center and hes playing 8-10 minutes a night.

    • HockeyYoda

      So after 3 years of continuous decline. You’re optimistic he’ll bounce back despite the fact that he’s even older. What’s even worse is most people on the site agree with you. Hopefully, Holland doesn’t see it your way.

  • 3 Little Birds

    I totally get that this is not a popular sentiment, but I like Looch, I like the hits and a bit of intimidation, and what he brings to the team. He is paid too much for what his performance has been, but I’d take him over Erikson or Neal any day. He can turn this around, and for some reason I think he will.

  • Serious Gord

    The optmistic take is that now that he has finally (why didn’t the org order him to do so?) has acknowledged that his training regimen was the wrong one – that he will focus on speed and skill rather than bulk – he will get what he probably needs more than any thing – confidence.

    I think he may still have the ability to compete and get close to even value for the 6 million. TMC was a terrible coach for him IMO. Let’s see what tippet can make of him.

    We will likely know which way he’s going by the end of October.

    • cityofchampions

      He’ll never be worth $6M. I’d be over the moon if he played well enough to be worth $3M (3rd liner with 10+ goals plus intimidation). If he did that next year, I can see some teams looking for toughness enquiring about him at the trading deadline (Toronto, Pittsburgh, Tampa) if we agreed to retain 50% salary.

  • Schmidt Head

    A mediocre player with a horrible contract? A mill stone around our necks for 4 more years?

    Perhaps, but I honestly don’t see the point in griping about it now. What’s done (signed) is done and it can’t be undone now. He’s buy-out proof, no one will give us any value for him so we may as well try to learn to live with him and try to get as much out of him as we can. What other choice is there?

    I suppose we could take his name off his jersey and replace it with a banner that reads “I’m Chiarelli’s fault” but apart from a bit of devilish pleasure, it would change nothing.

  • FutureGM

    Great article! Without change to the lineup it would seem the best possible top 6 would be
    Chaisson has shown to be a net presence and finisher with Conz and the 2nd line could be a puck possession line that cycles and uses their two big bodies for pick plays that open up shots from the circle/slot. The identity line was great for possession and as a result limiting goals against. Confidence is the wild card in sports and giving Looch the opportunity and reinforcing to him to make others take the puc rather than force passes could result in a ‘breakout’ season. Fingers crossed statman coach Tippet can work his first season magic on our Oil!!

    • cityofchampions

      ummm….didn’t we basically try that last year? They are all 3rd liners at best. You can get away with having one of them in your top 6 chasing down pucks for McDrai, but having all three there just isn’t good enough. We need at least one top 6 skill player with RNH, and preferably two that better than any of Kassian, Lucic or Chaisson. One the them can go with McDrai, the other two should be 3rd line or lower.

      • FutureGM

        I am aware of their stats IDing them as not top 6 forwards but no matter how many lemons you have one can not make apple juice. We do not have others that slot in as top 6 players and in fact some others on our roster are new to the NA game.
        The crazy thing about JP wanting an opportunity to play in the top 6 is tht there is probably no other team in the league with less talent on the RW

    • hammer313

      Yes, let’s again try Lucic on a top 6 role and lose the season, again! You are another fool! Were do you guys come from, do you even watch the games, is this Oiler management?! WOW!

  • CMG30

    You said it best, by the time the expansion draft rolls around we cannot have this guy on the roster. I’m under no illusions that Erriksson is an upgrade on the ice, but he is someone we can work out from.

  • rnj

    The slam dunk this article needed was a comparison of underlying numbers when he was scoring.

    Sure he’s not as bad as we think, numbers don’t lie – but what has changed then?

  • kormega

    Don’t give up on Looch, whatever it be he’s still a menace to every buddy on ice. I still believe that he’s capable to show up. C’mon, big boy, get your sh*t together!

  • His compete level has to be more consistent. We have never scratched him and we just keep rolling him out night after night. I remember the Anaheim game last year was one that sticks out but followed by Kings game. I think if his physical game is going his numbers would improve if he stays out of the penalty box.