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The Edmonton Oilers signed Milan Lucic, one of the biggest fish in the free-agency pool in name and bulk, as the NHL frenzy started on July 1.
And it’s the first palpable example of the Connor McDavid Effect.
“I think it’s self explanatory. They have a pretty special young player there. That’s what the decision comes down to. Getting a chance to play with one of the best young players that I’ve seen since I’ve come into the NHL,” Lucic said on TSN. “Whether I play with him or not, there’s light at the end of the tunnel with him [on the team].”
Lucic, 28, spent last season with the Los Angeles Kings, scoring 20 goals and 35 assists in 81 games, with 79 penalty minutes. That was after eight years with the Boston Bruins in which he tallied 342 points in 566 games. Many of those eight years were spent with Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, with whom Lucic won the Stanley Cup in 2011.
The contract is seven years at $6 million annually. That’s the cap hit Lucic had on his previous deal, signed back in 2013. The majority of the deal is paid in bonus money, which is an ominous sign for potential labor strife down the line in the NHL. As expected, the deal has a full no-move which becomes a no-trade later in the deal.
Lucic said staying with the Kings was his top choice, but it couldn’t work out with the salary cap. He said he had deep conversations with the Montreal Canadiens, which would be hilarious.
The Oilers obviously are taking a bit of heat here as the swap can’t be seen as anything but Taylor Hall-for-Milan Lucic, as the former was moved out to the New Jersey Devils indirectly to clear space for the latter. Hall is the a much more lethal scorer, while Lucic brings those nebulous intangibles to the team.
So is this a good move for the Oilers?
Seven years is way too long, of course. He’s been a stunningly durable player, missing only seven games since 2011, some of those to suspension. But does that durability last until he’s 33 or 34?
What he brings in the short term, however, are two aspects the Oilers lack: Someone who can create space for McDavid on the top line and a locker room presence.
Lucic has thrived in the past with skill players. He’s not exactly fleet of foot, but he’s a big body that attracts defensive attention and does a ton of dirty work – literally and figuratively – on the ice.
During these several years of slow, painful rebuilding, the Oilers have been criticized for having too many of the “same player,” and most of them were rather easy to play against. Lucic isn’t. Lucic changes that.
In the room, where malaise and depression have reigned for years, Lucic walks in as a fully formed leader, like he was in Boston and like he quickly became in Los Angeles. This team is learning how to win. Lucic has been a winner, and a vocal part of winning teams. This isn’t a “ring in the room” situation. He’s a leader.
Again, it’s hard to justify seven years, and it’s hard to justify moving out Taylor Hall of Milan Lucic, and it’s hard not to see this as Chiarelli trying to bring in one of his guys to his new team.
But there’s a very good chance that when McDavid has this team pointed towards postseason success again, we could look back at this Lucic signing as a foundational part of it.
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