Fire, Brimstone and Milan Lucic

Jonathan Willis
February 15 2017 10:30AM

27-Lucic-2

The lack of secondary scoring from the Edmonton Oilers has been a story all season, one with many authors. Old standbys Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have earned scorn. Benoit Pouliot appears to be utterly lost. Big-name free agent acquisition Milan Lucic has been a disappointment.

Of the four of them, there isn’t any question as to which player’s poor season should be the most terrifying for the Oilers. It’s that of Lucic, who seems to be imploding at 5-on-5 just as he enters the first year of a buyout-proof forever contract.

This hasn’t gotten nearly as much coverage as it deserves, and for obvious reasons. Lucic has 31 points in 57 games, which is a perfectly reasonable number mostly in-line with his career norms. As long as that holds up, the criticism will be muted, regardless of how lethargic he looks at 5-on-5.

It isn’t news that Lucic has been essentially a power play specialist all season, or that this is out of character for him. His numbers this year are way out of whack with his career averages:

Lucic production

The blue line shows power play scoring. Most forwards fall between 2.0 and 6.0 points/hour, and as a general rule a guy scoring 4.0 points/hour is doing a good job. Lucic has never been all that good on the power play, but this year he’s having a monster season, easily the best of his career.

How good is it? In five of nine seasons prior to this one, Lucic’s scoring rate was less than half what he’s managed this year.

The orange line shorts even-strength scoring. Most forwards fall between 1.0 and 2.5 points/hour, and as a general rule a guy who can crack 2.0 points/hour is a force to be reckoned with. Lucic has long been an excellent 5-on-5 guy, topping 2.0 points/hour in five of the last six seasons. This year he’s having an awful season, easily the worst of his career.

How bad is it? In five of six seasons prior to this one, Lucic’s scoring rate was more than double what he’s managed this year.

In a nutshell: Lucic is scoring twice as much as he normally does on the power play, and half as much at even-strength. That’s exactly what happened to Dustin Brown at the same age, incidentally: His 5-on-5 scoring collapsed and his power play scoring spiked. Since then, his power play scoring has returned to previous levels while his even-strength numbers have stayed bad, turning his contract with L.A. into one of the worst in the NHL.

Still, that’s a sample of one, and should be viewed with some skepticism. Far more troubling is the way that Connor McDavid has obscured the total collapse of Lucic’s game.

I came across this tweet last night, during the intermission in the Edmonton/Arizona game. At first I shrugged; I’d seen Lucic’s lousy point totals with and without McDavid and while they were terrible I’d known that for a while. It’s been more than two months since Lucic has picked up a 5-on-5 goal and he’s mostly played on other lines, so of course the figures would be bad.

What I hadn’t realized was how badly his shot rates have deteriorated away from the Oilers’ franchise centre. It’s hard to over-stress how bad 3.3 shots/hour is.

Most people don’t spend a lot of time on shots/hour, so some context is helpful. Of the 438 forwards to get at least 200 minutes in the NHL last year, these are the five worst by shots per hour:

  • Brandon Prust: 2.45
  • Eric Nystrom: 2.78
  • Jarret Stoll: 3.21
  • Scott Gomez: 3.38
  • Paul Byron: 3.40

Lucic’s non-McDavid total is worse than 435 of the 438 forwards to spend any real time in the NHL last year. The four worst guys on that list are all out of the league now, though on a happier note Byron is having a really nice season in Montreal.

Take away McDavid, and Lucic is one of the worst shot generators in the NHL, something which hasn’t been true in the past and which speaks to not just reluctance to shoot but an inability to get into dangerous areas with the puck on his stick.

Even when Lucic does shoot, it’s from far away. Among Oilers forwards, Lucic’s average shot distance is from further out than any regular other than Pouliot, who a) has been a trainwreck this season and b) hasn’t had the luxury of having Connor McDavid boost his shot totals. Lucic’s shots are coming from 10 feet further out than McDavid’s and from three feet further out than they were a year ago in L.A.

67-Pouliot-4

The Pouliot comparison is a helpful one to go back to, just because of how bad Pouliot has been this year. He has two seasons left at an average value of $4.0 million and at this point it’s not crazy to talk about a buyout. He’s been utterly ineffective offensively.

And yet, even separated from Connor McDavid, Pouliot’s lousy 0.98 points/hour and 4.2 shots/hour are fair-sized improvements on Lucic’s numbers.

Playing with McDavid a lot at 5-on-5 and posting career numbers with McDavid on the power play have concealed the extent to which Lucic’s game has crumbled from previously formidable heights this season. They won’t do it forever, and if Lucic can’t find a road back to his previous levels the next six years of his buyout-proof contract are going to be exceedingly difficult. 

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 McRaj
February 15 2017, 10:51AM
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Remember when Sekera came in last year. Everyone was worried and complaining about his contract. Funny how a year changes everything.

Give Lucic until next season, and at least wait to see what he does in the playoffs before going completely side ways on him.

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#2 Spydyr
February 15 2017, 10:41AM
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When some of us mentioned when they signed him the last few years of his contract were going to be ugly I don't think many felt the first few years were going to be ugly also. I hope he goes the Maroon route and drops twenty -thirty pounds in the off season and gets a bit quicker. Right now he can't keep up with the play.

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#3 the dope $teez
February 15 2017, 10:53AM
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I also think a small part of the struggle is due to his usage by the coaching staff. We saw good Lucic last night (or at least not AS damaging) with some decent physicality and work on the boards. His strengths should be utilized effectively, which oftentimes they are not.

I see Lucic as being the type of player to help establish and continue a cycle game, then push the puck into the slot with a crisp pass or force it to the net when d-zone coverage breaks down. CMD is a whiz-kid and is going to take advantage of ice he's given, but you have to admit he is a rush player, no question. Lucic just simply can't keep up, and by the time he gets to the play he is either gassed or can't make the right decision quickly enough...

I say give Looch, Drai and Shlip Shlappy some more run and see if they can establish a puck-protection cycle game effectively. Use their bodies, move their feet and wear down defenders.

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#4 freelancer
February 15 2017, 10:55AM
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It obviously has been a rough year for Lucic. While we had hoped when he was signed that he was going to be Connor's LW for the next 6 years maybe we can accept that he can be Draisaitl's instead.

If you look at the centres Lucic has played with over his career; specifically Krejci and Kopitar we see that he plays well with bigger north south styles (I'm aware Krejci isn't that big but it was the Boston system).

I hate player comparables but Draisaitl plays a similar game to Kopitar. I would like to see the two of them play the remainder of the season together and see what kind of chemistry can form.

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#5 the dope $teez
February 15 2017, 10:47AM
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Well these stats echo the eye-test. The man is a skating turnover machine, no wonder he can't crack a shot off, as soon as the puck is on his stick it's into a lost battle or on to an opposing player.

Obviously nobody could have imagined how brutal his season would be, so I don't lay this one on management. The thought process being that if he can be that x-factor for 3 or 4 more years that allows us to go deep in the playoffs, it's worth the long term gamble on a 6-year deal.

If this is the best we are going to see of Lucic, minus small flashes of brilliance (nice pass to Drai last night on the PP goal), this is going to be one of the worst, if not the worst, contract in the NHL. What a giant disappointment. One can only hope he can return to at least 75% of his old self and actually help this team win - god knows we need it right now and into the first round...

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#7 Oil9744
February 15 2017, 11:08AM
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Wow talk about over analyzing, You answered your own question already about Lucic, Chiarelli never got Lucic to make fancy plays and put up lots of points even though he still is putting up decent points this season, could he do better offensively? Sure he can, but so could almost everyone on the Oilers but 3 guys, Lucic is a presence on the ice, A leader in the locker room, and one of the top hitters on the team, wait till you see him in the playoffs before as well before you make all these assumptions on him already, and your already comparing him to Pouliot!????? Wow....that's a terrible comparison

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#8 Heschultzhescores
February 15 2017, 02:12PM
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Lucic Brings a whole lot more than goal scoring to this team. He is a leader in the dressing room from all accounts. His presence is worth something, and I'm sure he will perform during the playoffs, and that is something not every, so called, star can say.

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#9 Jordan88
February 15 2017, 02:17PM
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Lucic... what do we hate more the contract or the player?

This smells like ON and the Horcoff situation all over. I think Lucic has alot of intangibles as a player and leader.

I have hated advanced stats and stats in general for many years. Eakins era finally made me completely dismiss them as nothing more than a yardstick.

I think Lucic needs to get into a conditioning routine and lose mass. I think if we could get all of our big guys to work together on that we would be perfect.

Whoever made Draisaitil as quick as he is should be on the Oilers coaching staff. In his rookie year he was slow skating, slow on the play, and slow to back check. Now he is a force. I think a lighter leaner lucic can be just as mean and punishing but faster. And I think that is scary as hell.

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#10 Keepyourstickontheice
February 15 2017, 03:13PM
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KenBone18 wrote:

Shoulda drafted Tkachuk.

You shoulda beat the Coyotes.

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#11 Bills Bills
February 15 2017, 01:39PM
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I don't pay much attention to who writes the articles intil after I've read it. This one however I got to the first part and couldnt go any further. "Lucic has 31 pounts in 55 games which is on his career average. If this continues the critics will be muted". Then the article criticises the contract and where the points are coming from? I realized this was a JW article and stopped reading.

From my point of view, I don't care where the points are coming from. He's getting points. In fact he's exactly at the point totals I would expect. Maybe even a little higher. He needs 9 pounts in 25 games to hit 40. He will likely get 45 points which is a good season if your expectations are realistic for him. But he was never signed to score 60 or 70 points. He was brought in to be a leader. To add size to the lineup and to have an impact in games when they count. We could debate the last point but the games are just starting to matter. When they will really matter and where Lucic has had the biggest impact is in the playoffs. So maybe the reason it hasn't gotten the attention is because there is nothing to discuss. If this is an off year I can't wait till next year.

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#12 McDavid's Comet
February 15 2017, 02:36PM
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KenBone18 wrote:

Shoulda drafted Tkachuk.

Well to his credit he's doing phenomenally better than johnny hokey-pokey and makes 1/3 the salary.

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#13 Hemi-97
February 15 2017, 11:40AM
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Lucic will be very valuable down the stretch and in the playoffs is where you'll see his true value. Think of Claude Lemieux and his regular seasons vs playoffs!

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#14 Will
February 15 2017, 01:37PM
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My guess is Todd is using him differently. Lucic shows up for some games, and plays quietly for others. The underlying numbers are a bit alarming, but I am going to give him at least until I see his playoff performance until I write him off as a bad contract. I think he is just one of those guys that knows the most important thing about the regular season is getting in the playoffs.

How he performs there will be the real test.

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#15 Space Pants
February 15 2017, 02:29PM
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KenBone18 wrote:

Shoulda drafted Tkachuk.

And you should have been born a woman.

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#16 Petrolero
February 15 2017, 03:38PM
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I'm torn on lucic. One side of the coin had this player having one of the worse seasons of his career scoring wise after having just signed a big sweet contract that's going to anchor the Oilers if this is the new normal for him.

On the other side the amount of criminal hits on key players has goine down. So much so that the Oilers top six has pretty much played all games and the top 3 d have also been mostly healthy. And the team is making a playoff push and sticks for each other they're not bullied anymore. I strongly believe lucic is a big part of this.

I have to say that all things considered his scoring troubles don't bother me that much.

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#17 wiseguy
February 15 2017, 04:33PM
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KenBone18 wrote:

Shoulda drafted Tkachuk.

You mean the Oilers should've drafted Tkachuk so the Flames would've had Puljujarvi instead? I can completely understand why a Flames fan would feel that way.

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#18 McDavid's Comet
February 15 2017, 01:37PM
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Towersofdub wrote:

my comments about cancer weren't ignorant. in many cases cancer is a treatable illness. Ask Brandon Davidson or Phil Kessel. They seem like they're doing alright. so is my mom.

Dude, just give it up! I'm a cancer survivor and don't appreciate ignoramuses such as your self piping-off about experiences that you clearly have absolutely no appreciation for. So do me the favour and drop it, I'm tired of reading about your insensitivity on the subject. Own it and leave it alone.

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#19 Action Jackson
February 15 2017, 11:08AM
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I know it is time to pile on Lucic and Pouliot, and that there is good reason to, but I am not on board. Lucic brings the boom and Pouliot's skating is so good that his scoring has to improve. I am waiting for the puck luck for both to even out, but maybe adjusting expectations down a bit.

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#20 chickenStew
February 15 2017, 11:09AM
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I actually wonder if he has vision problems.

If you watch closely, he really has trouble locating the puck when it comes to him. Those extra half seconds are a huge factor. Not to mention the wayward passes. He must be able to put the puck where he wants to after all this time, is it because he isn't seeing things as he used to?

It happens to the best of us, and sometimes a guy can be in denial about it.

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#21 Morgo_82
February 15 2017, 11:55AM
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Spydyr wrote:

Fair enough .It is hockey and Oiler related but a sensitive subject and I can understand and respect why you would choose not to talk about it in this forum.

Now I wanna know what it was.

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#22 Randaman
February 15 2017, 02:52PM
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KenBone18 wrote:

Shoulda drafted Tkachuk.

Is he playing on the 4th line? Oh wait... that's Johnny who??

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#23 Bills Bills
February 15 2017, 02:40PM
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Oiler Al wrote:

He got 53% of his points on the power play, by hanging around the net after others work to get the puck there.[another Penner].Cant take or make a pass often, and skates like a slug. His tough game has been limited and his leadership isnt showing up, like a lot of the Oiler games.

Dont get me started on his contract [ good for him, bad for Oilers]

This was a terrible, terrible signing by Chiarelli. Lombardi out smarted Pete on this one.

By your point he should have half of his point as garbage goals. But he has 20 assists. Did the puck just bounce off him 20 times to someone who "did the work"?

You should not comment as you make zero sense. Lucic is what he is and has a role on this team that other teams were reportedly willing to give him more money for. He chose Edmonton and we have PC to thank.

Personally I'm happy he's here and he is what I expected. If you were expecting something else, then that's on you. Not him or PC.

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#24 Doug Weight
February 15 2017, 11:07AM
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Good read on Lucic. It makes me wonder and I don't have any stats or fancy to back this up, BUT. Where has the cycle game gone? I found just from watching and this maybe out of line but at the start of the year the Oilers were constantly cycling the puck down low with long possessions using their heavy forwards. Outside of Connor cruising around I just have not seen that type of puck possession at all lately.

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#25 The Future Never Comes
February 15 2017, 12:06PM
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I agree Lucic's passing abilities have been visibly terrible thus far. I read that someone said it's okay because he still "brings the boom". I have not really seen said "boom" this year. The only game I saw what I expected from him was against Nashville when he exploded through McCloud. He drew a retaliatory penalty which ultimately led to him burying a goal on the PP. What started this whole sequence was that bone crushing hit. This play has been vacant from his repertoire the whole season, and until he gets back to that ferocious style he will continue to be a non-factor. He is playing outside of the skill-sets that brought him to the NHL, he will continue to dwindle as long as he tries to reinvent his game. He needs to be physically invested to be an asset, when he's not he's a non-factor at best.

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#26 The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33
February 15 2017, 03:44PM
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There will come a time in the playoffs when Lucic will takeover and flip the game upside down and sideways to give the Oil a chance to win.

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#27 Boom or Bust
February 15 2017, 03:11PM
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KenBone18 wrote:

Shoulda drafted Tkachuk.

Shoulda stayed away..no one misses you...oh ya remember when we swept you. Sigh. Good times good times!!

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#28 Shameless Plugger
February 15 2017, 12:23PM
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Spydyr wrote:

It is an Oiler blog it was about an Oiler. Get over yourself.

It has absolutely ZERO to do with the current Oilers. Not to mention he doesn't even play in the league anymore. Self serving much?

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#29 McDavid's Comet
February 15 2017, 02:28PM
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Towersofdub wrote:

I understand the disease enough. One parent had it and survived it thus far, a grand parent had it and died from it. I'm not being insensitive by saying it can be treated in many cases. It's a disease, i get it. In many cases, including yours apparently, it's treatable. You're alive, right?

That's not entirely what you had first said, however I'm happy to hear that your parent is doing well and sorry to hear that a grandparent passed away from it. With that being said, you are right, yes it is treatable (obviously) but your tone did not really change until ON piled on to you. Let's just agree and be done with it, no harm done. This is a hockey form not Red Cross; let's keep it that way please.

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#30 Spydyr
February 15 2017, 11:50AM
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Hemi-97 wrote:

Lucic will be very valuable down the stretch and in the playoffs is where you'll see his true value. Think of Claude Lemieux and his regular seasons vs playoffs!

I have been leaning that way also and I hope you are right and he picks up his game when the going gets tough.

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#31 Shameless Plugger
February 15 2017, 12:07PM
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I'll give Lucic a pass this year. It took Sekera a full year to acclimatize to being here. Sometimes it takes awhile to adjust. I'm confident the real Lucic will stand up come crunch/playoff time.

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#32 KenBone18
February 15 2017, 01:57PM
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Shoulda drafted Tkachuk.

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#33 Boom or Bust
February 15 2017, 01:09PM
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Total Points wrote:

Spydyr - you are a classless idiot.

Seriously its not as bad as towers of dubs stupid ignorant cancer comments!!!!

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#34 Action Jackson
February 15 2017, 03:12PM
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The Future Never Comes wrote:

I agree Lucic's passing abilities have been visibly terrible thus far. I read that someone said it's okay because he still "brings the boom". I have not really seen said "boom" this year. The only game I saw what I expected from him was against Nashville when he exploded through McCloud. He drew a retaliatory penalty which ultimately led to him burying a goal on the PP. What started this whole sequence was that bone crushing hit. This play has been vacant from his repertoire the whole season, and until he gets back to that ferocious style he will continue to be a non-factor. He is playing outside of the skill-sets that brought him to the NHL, he will continue to dwindle as long as he tries to reinvent his game. He needs to be physically invested to be an asset, when he's not he's a non-factor at best.

Your concerns are valid, both on his health and dip in physical play. The sample is not big enough yet to definitively say he is no longer the same player, but an eyebrow is raised. My main point about bringing the boom isn't one thing in particular. It is just nice to have a monster on your team that can also play. Whether that is hitting, fighting, or just staring a player down he is a player that can definitively change the mood of the game on his own. Lucic remains the nuclear option.

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#35 S cottV
February 15 2017, 04:07PM
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Slipknot 8 wrote:

I'm going to add a little something that was missing from the article if I may, I'll let the posters discuse if it's a legitimate issue with Lucic game.

If I could get Mr.Willis to even comment on it that would help push the debate further.

Q - How much better would Lucic be if he had a RHC (right handed centre) on his line? I'm not talking Letestu, I'm talking Carter or Krejci types.

Seems to me Lucic has had problems with LHC and could be effecting his play, specifically in the defensive zone where he seems to make unusually bad passes.

There's many articles and interviews saying as much from Lucic himself, let me know what y'all think.

Drai has a world class back hand pass.

So distribution to Lucic shouldn't be a problem.

Drai can vary his speeds, so with some time to work things out, to play into Lucic's strengths - it's gonna get better.

I hope a lot better.

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#36 Hemmercules
February 15 2017, 10:57AM
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I would say put him back with McJesus but Maroon seems to have found a spot there, possibly for the rest of the season.

I thought Looch was Ok last night, I mentioned before the game that I hoped he would start to step up at this point in the locker room and on the ice. He seems a little frustrated but he's still getting line time and good line mates so its up to him to rise up.

Tomorrows game could be a rough one, hope he comes ready to play that way.

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#37 Morgo_82
February 15 2017, 12:02PM
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Spydyr wrote:

I'm pretty sure you will come across it yourself soon enough.

that doesn't help. LOL

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#38 Shameless Plugger
February 15 2017, 12:14PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Fair enough .It is hockey and Oiler related but a sensitive subject and I can understand and respect why you would choose not to talk about it in this forum.

WTF does it have to do with this article? Hockey/oiler related notwithstanding. Man your dumb sometimes.

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#39 Big Jacks Meat
February 15 2017, 11:10AM
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I Think Lucic is smart enough to know he needs to drop a few pounds and work on his leg strength over the summer. He will still be an intimidating force 15 - 20 lbs lighter , he is not here for just his nasty , he is a skilled usefull player who can still slap you.. This year he learned I believe,he is proud and will do what he needs to do. You really think Nuge or Eberle have brought what they do best..Nope.

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#40 Towersofdub
February 15 2017, 11:34AM
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Spydyr wrote:

Mod Note: We're leaving that one alone here, please.

what?

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#41 99CupsofCoffey
February 15 2017, 12:03PM
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Morgo_82 wrote:

that doesn't help. LOL

Google NEWS search NHL Investigation, it'll come up.

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#42 Shameless Plugger
February 15 2017, 12:35PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Guess you don't want to keep current on any other former Oilers either? Head in the sand much?

This is a HOCKEY blog. Take that crap elswhere.

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#43 McDavid's Comet
February 15 2017, 01:38PM
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Towersofdub wrote:

it's 2017. People survive many forms of cancer. It's treatable. I don't understand why this has upset so many people. Brandon Davidson is healthy enough to play NHL hockey.

That's not what you said, just give it up already!

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#44 Oiler Al
February 15 2017, 02:24PM
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Bills Bills wrote:

I don't pay much attention to who writes the articles intil after I've read it. This one however I got to the first part and couldnt go any further. "Lucic has 31 pounts in 55 games which is on his career average. If this continues the critics will be muted". Then the article criticises the contract and where the points are coming from? I realized this was a JW article and stopped reading.

From my point of view, I don't care where the points are coming from. He's getting points. In fact he's exactly at the point totals I would expect. Maybe even a little higher. He needs 9 pounts in 25 games to hit 40. He will likely get 45 points which is a good season if your expectations are realistic for him. But he was never signed to score 60 or 70 points. He was brought in to be a leader. To add size to the lineup and to have an impact in games when they count. We could debate the last point but the games are just starting to matter. When they will really matter and where Lucic has had the biggest impact is in the playoffs. So maybe the reason it hasn't gotten the attention is because there is nothing to discuss. If this is an off year I can't wait till next year.

He got 53% of his points on the power play, by hanging around the net after others work to get the puck there.[another Penner].Cant take or make a pass often, and skates like a slug. His tough game has been limited and his leadership isnt showing up, like a lot of the Oiler games.

Dont get me started on his contract [ good for him, bad for Oilers]

This was a terrible, terrible signing by Chiarelli. Lombardi out smarted Pete on this one.

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#45 Slipknot 8
February 15 2017, 03:23PM
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I'm going to add a little something that was missing from the article if I may, I'll let the posters discuse if it's a legitimate issue with Lucic game.

If I could get Mr.Willis to even comment on it that would help push the debate further.

Q - How much better would Lucic be if he had a RHC (right handed centre) on his line? I'm not talking Letestu, I'm talking Carter or Krejci types.

Seems to me Lucic has had problems with LHC and could be effecting his play, specifically in the defensive zone where he seems to make unusually bad passes.

There's many articles and interviews saying as much from Lucic himself, let me know what y'all think.

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#46 Hemmercules
February 15 2017, 11:00AM
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Spydyr wrote:

Mod Note: We're leaving that one alone here, please.

Yikes.....

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#47 A-Mc
February 15 2017, 11:59AM
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The last time the Oilers had players fall asleep at the wheel during the regular season but wake up in the Post season, they made it to game 7 of the Stanley cup final!

#GOILERS

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#48 Morgo_82
February 15 2017, 12:10PM
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99CupsofCoffey wrote:

Google NEWS search NHL Investigation, it'll come up.

Thanks, about the former Oiler?

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#49 FISTO Siltanen
February 15 2017, 12:49PM
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Love how anyone asking people to calm down, look at the big picture and not be hasty throwing the baby out with the bathwater starts off in the negative with a bunch of trashes.

Because running players like Schultz, Petry, Gagner and Dubnyk made the Oilers a better team.

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#50 Spydyr
February 15 2017, 01:04PM
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Total Points wrote:

Spydyr - you are a classless idiot.

Insults are the arguments employed by those who are in the wrong.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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