Milan Lucic has seven goals and 28 points in his last 122 games dating back to January 1st, 2018.
With that few points and a $6 million/year cap hit, it is understandable why many wonder how much value Lucic has moving forward.
He still has four years remaining on his contract, and while many have outlined the merits of buying him out, I wouldn’t do it.
Especially after his comments yesterday.
Lucic was invited on Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver, mainly to discuss the Vancouver Giants. Lucic was on the 2007 Memorial Cup winning Giants team and they are in the WHL final this year taking on the Prince Albert Raiders. (With my nephew playing on the Raiders, I will take them in six games.)
For most of the interview, Lucic spoke about his time with the Giants, but near the end, James Cybulski asked Lucic if he ever envisions playing for his home town Canucks.
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“That’s definitely something I wouldn’t rule out. It’s obviously something that potentially could happen. Like you said, things haven’t gone that well for me here with the Oilers. Especially the last year and a half. So a new GM, new coach, which haven’t even been named yet, coming in, you don’t even know what their plan is moving forward. I remember doing an interview back in ’07 before the Mem Cup and I said it would always be a dream of mine to someday play for the Canucks. You still have that kid inside of you. You still have that dream of playing for your home town team. And like I said you never know what the future has in store and what potentially can happen,” said Lucic.
The past 18 months have been a major struggle for Lucic. Last summer he asked for a trade, but nothing came of it. Unlike the second half of the 2018 season where Lucic looked disinterested and frustrated, this past season, despite not scoring, Lucic wasn’t a negative influence in the room. He was upbeat. He played often in the bottom six and played hard. He just didn’t produce.
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Lucic answered Cybulski’s question about playing for his hometown team, but he went even further and discussed the Canucks team.
“I think the Canucks right now are a very exciting team. I love what (Vancouver GM, Benning) Jim’s done as far as building the team within through the draft and developing players. He’s done a great job of that. I think (coach Green) Travis has done a really good job as well. It’s a growing team and you never know what the future has in store for you,” he said.
That response is why I wouldn’t buy him out. He seems very open to the possibility of a trade. And I don’t believe Vancouver is the only option he’d consider.
Of course, Vancouver or any other team he’d want to play for will need the same interest, and it is difficult when he has four years remaining and a $6 million cap hit.
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Buying him out offers varying degrees of cap relief. Here is what his cap hit would be over the next four years.
2019-20: $3,625,000
2020-21: $5,625,000
2021-22: $4,125,000
2022-23: $5,625,000
In years two and four the Oilers would save a minuscule $375,000, and replacing his roster spot with a player on a minimum salary means they’d actually pay more to not have him on the roster for those two seasons. It isn’t ideal.
Why not try to work out a trade instead of having dead cap space, or just see if Lucic can improve and be a decent 30-point player?
Lucic’s skating isn’t the issue many claim it is. He is always in good shape. His downfall right now is his pucks skills have diminished. Part of that is due to lack of confidence, but much of it, in my opinion, is because of his off-season training regime. Today’s young players spend a lot of their summer working on the ice and on skill development. They are still lifting weights and getting stronger, but their on-ice to off-ice ratio is a lot closer than it has been for players in the past.
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For years players spent 90% of their summer off the ice working on strength and cardio.
Now, it is closer to a 60/40 split. Lucic admitted he needs to alter his routine.
“I have to find the confidence again. I’ve always been a guy who’s more in the gym than on the ice, and this younger generation starts skating in June and I think that’s something I need to do,” said Lucic.
I’m actually surprised the Oilers didn’t discuss this with him last season. It was clear his puck skills needed work. I realize teams can’t tell players what to do in the off-season, but I know they send them individual specialized workout plans, so if I was the new GM I’d incorporate an on-ice component as well.
If Paul Coffey is the organization’s skills coach, why isn’t he working with players in the off-season? Set the template in the summer, when players have ample time to do it.
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Many players hire their own skills coach. Darnell Nurse and Connor McDavid work with Adam Oates, but I’m surprised NHL teams don’t encourage their paid skills coach to work with players in the summer.
That is where the most gains can be made.
Ultimately it is up to Lucic. His work ethic and conditioning has never been an issue. He was sixth or seventh in testing last training camp, but skill trumps speed and conditioning in my books.
Of course you need to be in great shape to succeed in the NHL, but puck handling, passing and board work as so crucial nowadays and Lucic struggled in those areas the most the past 18 months.
A strong summer working on those skills could help him be a 30-35 point player. I recognize that isn’t the return people want on a $6 million cap hit, but it is better than 20 points.
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And I’d much rather have a 30-35 point player, instead of dead cap space of $5.625 million in two of the next four seasons.
A good summer of training, or finding a trade partner are better options than paying him to go away.

PARTING SHOTS…

1. Lucic’s comments about his hometown made me ponder what a trade might look like. I can’t see any way the Canucks acquire him without Edmonton acquiring Loui Eriksson. They have identical cap hits, but Lucic has one more year on his deal. Eriksson has 76 points in three seasons with Vancouver, while Lucic has 104, but only 28 the past 18 months.
Would either team make this trade?
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So far 46% said Oilers Yes Van No.
30% said both teams say yes.
14% had Oilers N Van Y
10% said both teams say No.
2. Brandon Manning is currently 16th on the Oilers depth chart. Good grief. The Oilers finished the season with eight D-men, and Bakersfield is dressing seven D-men each game after Evan Bouchard arrived. Manning is a healthy scratch. He has a $2.25 million cap hit for next season. I’d buy him out before Lucic. Manning’s cap hit, if bought out, is this:
2019-20: $916,667
2020-21: $666.667
The new GM will likely be cursing when he sees this situation, wondering how could Peter Chiarelli be such an inept evaluator of talent to acquire Manning and his cap hit for Drake Caggiula. I didn’t think it was possible at the time of the trade, but this deal has actually gotten worse since Chiarelli made it. Utterly embarrassing.
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3. I love this quote from Justin Williams when after last night’s victory he was asked if the Carolina Hurricanes are a team of destiny.
“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice. You don’t wait for it, you achieve it. We’re not waiting around to see what happens. We’re going to try to go get it.” Love it. You don’t luck your way into winning multiple playoff rounds. You earn it and you have to believe it is possible.
4. Kelly McCrimmon is staying in Vegas. I mentioned a few weeks ago two sources told me they didn’t think McCrimmon would be the GM. They were correct. I still believe Mark Hunter is at the top of the list.
5. Fun question of the day. What contract would you give Jesse Puljujarvi? He doesn’t have arbitration rights and has 29 points in 111 games over the past two seasons.
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I’d sign him for two years at $1.1-$1.25 million/year.

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