Breaking down Milan Lucic’s three years with the Oilers

In a somewhat shocking move, the Calgary Flames traded James Neal to the Edmonton Oilers on July 19, 2019 for jumbo-sized winger Milan Lucic.

Considered to hold one of the worst and most immovable contracts in the NHL, Lucic waived his no-move clause to come to Calgary, and as of right now, will be a part of the Flames organization for the next four seasons.

Looking back at Lucic’s performance

For almost the entire duration of his time in Edmonton, Lucic was criticized for his lack of offensive contributions, slow pace, and not being an effective player in the top-six despite a high price tag. Not coincidentally, these were the exact same criticisms thrown at Neal over his single season with the Flames.

Hopefully the bad-contract-for-bad-contract trade ends up working for everyone involved, but so far, the trade has been considered an absolute win for Ken Holland and the Oilers, and an absolute disaster for Brad Treliving and the Flames.

Solely from perceptions over the past three years, this does make some sense. Lucic has essentially been the poster boy for why you should never hand out big money contracts to UFAs on July 1st, while Neal was a perennial 20 goal scorer prior to coming to Calgary. Neal appears to present more upside initially, though those who saw him play last year know that he may not be the same player he once was.

At the end of the day, there isn’t any use crying about losing Neal; he wasn’t a good fit for the Flames and for purely selfish reasons, the club is hoping he’ll rebound in Edmonton. The question now is what did the Flames really get back in Lucic? Has he really been as bad a player as fans say he was? Is there any hope that he can be an effective option in the bottom-six? Let’s find out.

Context

Because they’ve been such a poor team for so many years, Lucic found himself without a defined role for much of his tenure with the Oilers. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Lucic to play on all four lines within a short time frame. Over the past three seasons, he leads the Oilers in total games played with 243; he is one of 10 skaters with 200+ GP and one of 17 with 100+ GP. These thresholds will be used to determine Lucic’s team ranks for various statistics below. All stats are from Natural Stat Trick and are at 5v5 unless specified otherwise.

Scoring

Scoring StatisticGoalsTotal AssistsFirst AssistsSecond AssistsTotal Points
Value2141251662
Rank, 100GP65485
Rank, 200GP55485

Before signing with the Oilers, Lucic hit the 50 point mark in four of his six previous seasons, and in all six seasons he paced for at least 45 points. With the Oilers, he managed to hit the 50 point mark just once in his first year, followed by seasons of just 34 and 20 points.

However, his goals, combined assists, first assists, and points totals ranks in the top six for all Oilers players with at least 100 GP.

Possession

PossessionCF%SCF%HDCF%
Value51.150.8750.2
Rank, 100GP446
Rank, 200GP225

Despite his scoring totals taking a dive, Lucic remained a solid possession player as an Oiler. Over the past three seasons, he’s over 50% in all three major categories, was over 50% CF in all three seasons, and was only below 50% SCF last season where he finished at 49.7%. He hovered around the 50% HDCF mark in all three years, with two seasons just under and one season just over the mark.

His corsi and scoring chance possession metrics actually rank second on the team for those with 200 GP behind only Connor McDavid.

Expected Goals

Expected GoalsxGFxGF%ixG
Value125.5450.5330.79
Rank, 100GP774
Rank, 200GP754

Lucic’s on-ice expected goals total over the past seasons was 125.54, good for an average of 42 per season. Individually, his 30.79 ixG averages to 10 per season. His on-ice totals were actually good for third among forwards behind McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (ahead of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), and individually fourth among forwards.

Looking at last year alone, Lucic’s on-ice expected goals was 32.38, and individually it was 8.00. That would have put him between Sam Bennett and Derek Ryan for eighth among forwards on-ice, and ninth individually, had he been on the Flames last season. For comparison, Neal’s expected goals were 26.72 on-ice (10th among forwards) and 7.94 individually (ninth).

Shooting

ShootingiCFiSCFiHDCFRush AttemptsRebounds CreatedShotsSH%
Value59935218118493056.89
Rank, 100GP7445268
Rank, 200GP7445265

Lucic had a disaster of a yeah shooting wise with the Oilers in 2018-19. His 5v5 shot total was his second lowest in his whole career, 45% lower than the season prior, and only 0.85 5v5 shots per game. This appears to be a severe deviation from his career norms, including over his time as an Oiler.

His shooting percentage, however, was not too far off from his Oilers average last season. The past two seasons, Lucic has hovered just under the 6% mark for shooting at 5v5. Had he hit the shot total from two years ago, there’s a good chance he could have doubled his goal total.

Even with his shot volume significantly down last season, Lucic still averaged 305 5v5 shots over three years, good for an average of 102 per season. Quality wise, he was seventh in iCF, and fourth in both iSCF and iHDCF among Oilers skaters with 100 GP.

The most interesting shooting metrics for Lucic though, are in his rush attempts (ranked fifth) and rebounds created (ranked second). In a bottom-six role, it’s not out of the question for Lucic to hold the zone and generate chances.

Peripherals (All Situations)

PeripheralsTotal PenaltiesMinorPenalties DrawnHitsBlocks
Value71533371567
Rank, 100GP349212
Rank, 200GP34929

A huge knock on Lucic is his tendency to take costly penalties, and that’s generally been true for his entire Oilers career. He took the second most minor penalties out of all Oilers players with 100 GP, and only drew the seventh most. His ratio of minor penalties taken to penalties drawn is terrible, and is something that could be seriously punishing in tight games.

On the other side, Lucic is a monster when it comes to hitting. Unsurprisingly, he was one of the Oilers’ leaders in hits, second to just Adam Larsson with 715, an average of 238 per season and around three per game.

Durability

Lucic is one of the most durable players in the NHL, missing just three total games over his three seasons with the Oilers. He has played in at least 79 games in all seasons since 2009-10, not including the lockout shortened 2013 season where he played 46 of 48 games with the Boston Bruins.

His career average time on ice is 15:48, a mark that he surpassed in his first two seasons as an Oiler with 17:10 in 2016-17 and 15:58 in 2017-18, but missed last season where he played just 13:14. Though his career average is over 15 minutes, Lucic has been effective with limited minutes, averaging over 17 minutes just four times in his 12 year career.

The McDavid Factor

The biggest caveat when discussing any Oilers player is the effect of McDavid on their statistics and performance. McDavid is arguably the best player in the game today, and is looked at as a player who makes those around him better as a result. It’s important to consider his effect on Lucic’s numbers to evaluate whether Lucic can be trusted to perform at the same or better rate without McDavid as a teammate.

Last season, Lucic played with McDavid at 5v5 for just 98 minutes. This averages to around 1:15 of ice time shared between the two players per game; a minuscule amount. Over his three seasons in Edmonton, Lucic and McDavid skated together for 970 minutes at 5v5, good for an average of four minutes per game. Lucic played with McDavid the most in 2016-17, his first season in Edmonton, and even in that season only averaged 5:31 time on ice with McDavid, less than 40% of Lucic’s total TOI.

What is interesting to note is that when looking at McDavid’s on-ice metrics, he actually performed better when Lucic was on the ice than when he wasn’t. Over the past three seasons, here’s how the totals break down:

StatisticMcDavid & LucicLucic without McDavidMcDavid without Lucic
CF%53.8949.8551.22
SF%53.0949.4951.3
GF%56.9845.8956.06
xGF%54.9948.4753.07
SCF%55.1948.8851.65
HDCF%57.2147.0153.09

In all key categories, including all three major possession metrics, goals for percentage, and expected goals for percentage, McDavid’s totals were better with Lucic than without.

With both McDavid and Lucic on the ice, the Oilers were over 53% in every single category. McDavid without Lucic still performed well, eclipsing 51% in all metrics, but every statistic took a slight dip when Lucic wasn’t on the ice.

Lucic playing without McDavid was below 50% over the course of three combined seasons however, which is somewhat of a concern considering Lucic won’t play with anyone of McDavid’s calibre in Calgary. Still, it’s encouraging to see that Lucic was actually helpful on McDavid’s line rather than a hindrance.

What can we expect?

It’s tough to predict how Lucic will do in Calgary. With his career taking a significant step backwards last season, the expectations for Lucic are very low.

If he can come in and provide a presence in the bottom six, hit everything that moves, and chip in with a goal or two every once in a while he’ll be fine playing on the bottom of the Flames roster. It’s unlikely he’ll receive any significant power play time, but that’s okay. The Flames have much better offensive weapons to go to ahead of Lucic.

Lucic was most effective last season on the “Identity Line” with Kyle Brodziak and Zack Kassian. If he can develop some chemistry with Bennett and Mark Jankowski, perhaps that line can be useful. Only time will tell.


Photo by Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

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