If I had to bet, Lucic will be back on the Edmonton Oilers next year
We’ve had more than a week now of trade rumours about Milan Lucic and a few things have come clear: a) that Lucic asked for a trade for family reasons, but he’s not demanding one, nor is he in any position to demand one, and it’s evident he understands the Edmonton Oilers may not be able to accommodate him this summer, b) that the Oilers are confident Lucic can be moved without swallowing too much of a poison pill, largely based on a combination of hope that Lucic can rebound and because of his reputation for being an intimidating physical force and c) that despite the forces aligning that would see Lucic move out, the insiders closest the team are talking about Lucic returning to the Oilers next year.
Let’s deal first with Lucic’s desire to leave, where Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman had this to say on Vancouver radio: “I think he wants to get out of Canada. I don’t think he wants to play here anymore. I think that’s another situation where the wife has seen how much heat the player has taken, I think, and isn’t always comfortable with that.”
As for the insiders talking about Lucic’s return being a real possibility, that’s been the consistent talk from commentators like Bob Stauffer, Mark Spector, Ryan Rishaug and Jason Gregor, who have all stressed the notion that Lucic could well have a rebound year in Edmonton.
The clearest comment about Lucic coming back came from Sportsnet game analyst Drew Remenda, who is close to the coaching staff. Remenda was on Oilers Now last week and described in detail why he thinks Lucic can rebound with the Oilers, spelling out the plan that is in place:
“First off, Milan is the poster boy for you can’t judge a book by its cover,” Remenda said. “We look at Milan and we see the big, hulking brooding guy who can hulk smash, but he’s more Dr. Banner than he is the Incredible Hulk. He’s a sensitive guy. He’s a smart guy. He’s a guy when you talk to him he’s more than #27 Milan Lucic going up and down the wing. He cares about his team. He cares about his teammates. And he cares about his legacy as a hockey player. And the legacy until last year was: he’s a power forward, he’s won a Stanley Cup, he’s a guy that ‘s going to help you you win, he’s what you want on a hockey team and he’s what you want in a hockey player. But you’re right, the year was frustrating for him because he just couldn’t get things done, he just couldn’t keep up to the speed of the game, and it looked like it was kind of passing him by and the fact that he didn’t have any production …
“That was the worst year of his career. But he’s got to get faster. And people say, ‘He needs to lose weight.’ No, he doesn’t. He’s not a fat guy. He’s not out of shape. He’s in good condition. He’s just a big, big man. So knowing the coaching staff of the Oilers, and knowing the great strength and conditioning staff, Chad Drummond, that he is, I know they’ve already got him working on becoming more powerful, becoming quicker. Now there’s no way he’s going to become Connor McDavid quick. He’s not going to be Usain Bolt down the 100 metre quick. He needs to get two, three steps quicker and you can do that.”
Remenda said Lucic could get in a 12 week program to do this, that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl did this. “You can develop power and you can develop quickness and Milan has got all the coaching and all the resources that he needs to do that, and I believe because he’s a proud guy, because he cares about his legacy and about being considered by his teammates valuable to his team, he’ll be working on that and he’ll come back trying to be quicker.
“If Milan is on the ice physically feeling better, feeling faster, feeling like he can keep up and creating that space and creating a little bit of success on the ice early, that will lead to a better emotional and physical state. It just will. Because he wants to contribute. He wants to be better. And it definitely played on his pride and played on his emotions that he wasn’t able to do that.”
Remenda said that Lucic can bounce back. “Give me an athlete with something to prove. Look at the Vegas Golden Knights. Give me an athlete with something to prove and I’ll take him all day long, I’ll take his want and his desire and use that for him.”
- If it was going to be easy to move Lucic, I doubt all the insiders would be talking up the notion of him returning to the team. The most likely outcome is that Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli won’t be able to find a deal that works for the Oilers, so Lucic will be back as an Oiler in 2018-19. Perhaps if he gets off to a strong start next season Lucic can be moved then — if he still wants to be moved at that point.
- Plan A with Lucic when he signed in Edmonton was for him to play on the same line with Connor McDavid. Plan B is that he’s going to come back and play on the second line with Leon Draisaitl. I’d suggest Plan B has much more chance of succeeding than Plan A. Lucic and Draisaitl look like they might well have some chemistry on the cycle game, forechecking and puck protecting in the offensive end. Indeed, the biggest mystery here is why it took the Oilers so long to team up Draisaitl with Lucic last season.
- Lucic does not mesh well with fast, skill centres lke McDavid or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, as they see and make plays at a speed that is too much for Lucic. He not just a step behind them, he’s three or four steps. There’s no real shame in that, however, as few players can play at the speed of McDavid and RNH (which is one more reason why it’s a relief that the Oilers coaching staff at long last put McDavid and RNH on the same line).
- I’m OK with the Oilers trying out Plan B with Lucic, but my own take is that the most realistic view of Lucic is Plan C, that he be seen and used as a third-line two-way winger, one who is counted on to get about 15 goals and 35 points next year, and is also seen more as a penalty kill specialist than a power play specialist. In this role, Lucic will be overpaid, but he can also help his team win.
- What I’d most like to see, though, is that Lucic gets traded. It’s great that he evidently isn’t forcing a trade request. I have little doubt he’ll be fully committed to the Oilers if he ends up back here, but if the right deal does fall into place to move out Lucic, that’s the best move for the Oilers given that Lucic will overpaid as third line winger, which is what he almost certainly is now given his level of performance the past two seasons. It would also be reasonable for Lucic to bounce between the second and third lines, working at times with Draisaitl and at times with Ryan Strome. If he’s on a hot streak, he can get power play time. If not, someone else can get those minutes.
- The crucial thing for Lucic is that he and his team define his success not by his points, but by his two-way play. The key is how well he cycles the puck and forechecks in the offensive zone and how well he backchecks, covers his man, wins pucks and advances pucks in the defensive zone. From what I’ve seen of him in two years, he’s capable of being a useful two-way winger still, even if he’s not going to be a top line, point-producing power forward again. Essentially, everyone needs to forget about Lucic’s salary, forget about what he was in the past, focus on what he can do now, and realize that in a more limited role Lucic can be a valuable player on a winning Oilers team.
- I want to add that as a fan of the team, I like this player and the effort he’s shown as an Oiler. Whatever happens with the man, good luck to him and his family. I always hope that players and their families stay far, far, far away from our blog posts and Twitter commentary — as by their analytical and partisan nature what we say is often highly critical and not healthy for a player to focus on — but we write as fans and we hope for the best for the players, even as we often criticize them.