For too long, the Edmonton Oilers have been an easy mark. For too long, their young players have been in a losing culture and have learned their lessons well. For too long they’ve been too complacent, not physical enough and seemed to accept losing a little too easily. That ends. Now. Signing Milan Lucic to a seven-year deal worth $42 million will instantly transform the Oilers dressing room from a country club to a boot camp. Lucic will be to the Oilers what Gary Roberts was to the Carolina Hurricanes, a veteran player with some snarl and a pedigree that will come in and make his young teammates accountable. In short, Lucic gives the Oilers an identity.
Oilers coach Todd McLellan is probably the happiest person in the organization today. The honeymoon certainly didn’t last long in Edmonton and it wasn’t long before McLellan was publicly expressing his dissatisfaction with the level of compete among his players and the seeming willingness to accept defeat. If they were looking for one player in the free agent pool that could help dispel that attitude, it’s Milan Lucic. With Jesse Puljujarvi falling into the Oilers lap on draft day and Patrick Maroon in the lineup, Lucic will have a few other physical players to help him share the load. And it’s not as though this is a one-way street. The deal could end up being a sweet for Lucic as it is for the Oilers. Nothing has been set in stone, but it’s reasonable to suggest that Lucic will play on the top line alongside Connor McDavid at center and Jordan Eberle on the right side. And Lucic made no secret of the fact that McDavid was the key to the Oilers luring him to Edmonton. “I think it’s pretty self-explanatory,” Lucic told TSN after his signing. “They have a pretty special young player there and I think that’s what this decision came down to. Getting a chance to play with one of the best players I’ve seen since I’ve been in the NHL is something that’s really, as a player, a lot to look forward to.” For Lucic, it might just be a matter of clearing out some bodies, going hard to the net and putting his stick on the ice. Lucic has scored 30 goals only once in his career and that was five years ago. That could change with McDavid looking for his tape in the slot. And who knows how much more of an impact McDavid will have with Lucic giving him that much more room in the offensive zone to do his work? There has been some concern expressed about the length of the contract, but it’s easy to forget that Lucic is only 28 years old. He’s a 28-year-old with a lot of hard NHL miles on his body, but Lucic has always done a pretty good job of taking care of himself. And even if his performance dips and his impact on the Oilers wanes in the latter years of the deal, the Oilers had to pay a premium for getting him and what he brings to them now. And even once Lucic begins to break down, he’ll still be able to provide some guidance and leadership to the organization. The Oilers made this deal because they’ve been spinning their wheels far too long as a rebuilding franchise. They’re moving into a new building and they have all kinds of momentum. The time to start winning is now and Lucic will go a long way to delivering on that mandate. It doesn't address the gaping, screaming need for a puck-moving defenseman, but it's a start.
WHAT ADVANCED STATS SAY: The price is fine considering the bidding war and the talent he possesses, but the term is scary. The projected cap hit was on the low side due to a poor 2014-15 showing, but he bounced back in a big way last season. There’s no doubt the Oilers will be better on the ice with Lucic, especially on offenSe and especially next to McDavid, but it’s hard not to wonder what premium they paid for size and grit here. Another troubling issue is that Lucic doesn’t get as many shots off as he used dropping from 150 two seasons ago to 124 last year. Lucic is a great player, but the contract carries a fair bit of risk at seven years as it’s unlikely a player who’s been this physical ages gracefully.
By Dominik Luszczyszyn