Milan Lucic is a very good hockey player, one who will be just 28 years old when next season starts. He not only puts up points at a fairly decent pace but also plays a physical game, something that many fans and reporters in this town believe that the Oilers lack and is an aspect of the game that the team will need to improve upon if they are going to be competitive in the NHL’s Western Conference. And he has history with Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli from their days with the Boston Bruins, where they won the Stanley Cup together.
At this time of year any one of those things would normally be more than enough to get fans talking about him potentially signing with the Oilers when the NHL’s annual silly season - officially known as free agency - kicks off on July 1. The combination of the three all but guarantees that until he signs his name to a new contract the idea Milan Lucic ending up as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, and the multiple Stanley Cup wins that will obviously follow said signing, is going to be a constant topic of conversation among the team’s fans.
Personally, signing Lucic is not an idea that thrills me. Not because I don’t think that Lucic is a good player (see the first sentence of this story) but because I think the contract that would be required to land him as a free agent is likely to be less than ideal. Not the first couple of years, he’s likely got three, maybe four, quality years left, but after that, when I expect that the Oilers will be butting up against the cap, things won’t look nearly so rosy.
The Twitter rumour de jour is that Lucic is looking for $6M annually and six years from the Kings to keep playing hockey for them in sunny, southern California. That’s a deal that I don’t entirely hate (in a perfect world we’d be talking about four or maybe five years but there is almost no chance of that happening so we’re stuck with reality for now), I wouldn't want either of those number to get bigger though. It's also worth noting that there is no guarantee that he’d be willing to sign that same deal with the Oilers or any other team. In fact I think the opposite would happen, once he’s free to receive offers from all 30 teams I expect that both the length of the deal and the contract amount will increase. I like Lucic as a player but it’s that extra term and a few more dollars where I get off the train.
Now you might be wondering why then I would be okay with a six year deal if I don’t think that Lucic will be worth his contract over the final years of the deal. And that’s a fair question, one with a relatively simple answer. Because signing Lucic to any deal isn’t about year six of the deal, or for that matter even year one, signing Lucic is simply a way for the Oilers to address the black hole that is their defence without also creating a hole among the team’s top six forwards.
Normally this isn’t how free agency works. You need x, you sign a player who does x, that’s how free agency normally works. When it comes to the Oilers the results may vary, but that’s the general idea. Unfortunately for the Oilers what they need this summer they can’t get through free agency alone, any help on the blue line significant enough to change the course of the team is going to have to come via trade. Since trades typically require assets to be sent the other way, you ideally want to trade from a position where your team has some depth so as to avoid creating a problem by solving a problem. For a team like the Oilers this is a problem because they have no depth.
This is always the first argument against trading anyone, "Okay so you trade Taylor Hall to get a defenceman, now who do you get to replace Hall?" Well, in this case that player would be Lucic. I’m certainly not advocating trading Hall, I like Hall as much as any player on the team, and it could just as easily be Benoit Pouliot that gets sent out of town not Hall, but that’s what signing Lucic would be about, finding a way to create some depth and allowing the team to indirectly address the defence through free agency.
In a vacuum, I’d prefer to have Hall/Pouliot holding down the top two spots on the left side of the Oilers lineup to either Hall/Lucic or Pouliot/Lucic - fewer years and less money for, at worst, about the same production. To me that’s a far better long term option for the team. But teams don’t get built in a vacuum. So if this is what it takes to address the defence, then that’s what it takes. That doesn’t mean that Lucic should be acquired at any cost, far from it, just that any potential signing will need to be looked at from a wider angle than x dollars and y years.