As the pre-season gets underway, there’s one player in the Edmonton Oilers dressing room that is embracing a ‘clean slate’ in 2018-19. Milan Lucic’s 2017-18 season has been well documented within the Northern Alberta market. He managed just ten goals and 34 points in a tumultuous 82 games and had brief stints on the third and fourth lines on some nights.
It wasn’t ideal considering he was in year two of that seven-year, $42 million contract he signed as an unrestricted free agent (UFA) back in July 2016. Now entering year three, it’s a pivotal season for Lucic and the club. Falter again, and he could find himself genuinely being shopped by the guy that ironically drafted him back in 2006 as the general manager of the Boston Bruins.
The internal hope, at least from the fan base, is that last year was a blip on the radar and not indicative of the eventual decline expected of the power forward. Remember, he was pegged to be the left wing option with Connor McDavid for a number of years at the time of his signing. Through all the media rounds the club was making, it sounded like a great fit.
Related: Milan Lucic Trade Talk
However, it was dollars and term that gave cause for concern initially. Now it’s dollars, term, and a potential decline in production while still being in the first half of an expensive contract that’s an albatross to move. In turn, Lucic saw his ice-time drop from his first season (17:09) to his second (15:58). A large part of that was his horrifying second-half slump where he scored just one goal in 43 games.
The Oiler with the Most to Prove: Milan Lucic
What followed throughout the summer were rumors that Lucic had asked for a trade, or that the club was close to dealing him. All that trade talk peaked during draft weekend, where a day before the first pick was made, rumors were rampant that Edmonton was nearing a deal for Lucic. When the smoke settled, Lucic was still a member of the Oilers and will be here in October.
Related: Why Trading Milan Lucic is Unlikely
The hope now is that the embattled forward can once again return to being a 20-goal scorer, and a physical presence on the ice. It would help the club avoid missing the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 years. If he can’t have even a modest return to form, this signing will be seen as an absolute failure within the market and across the NHL.
Trading him will be even harder than it already is with 1) clear evidence that “the decline” has inevitably hit Lucic hard, and 2) the remaining dollars and term left on the deal. If the asset isn’t already seen as a negative and declining one, it will be if he has another season like his last. Some other deterrents include a significant amount of bonus dollars he’s entitled to over the deal, and a modified no-trade clause (NTC).
He’s still due $11.5 million in signing bonuses over the remaining four years (his 2018-19 bonus was paid on July 1). In total there’s $19 million still left to be paid when you add up the bonuses and salary owed. His modified NTC limits a deal to eight teams unless waived before June 30, 2022. After that, the NTC extends to a list of ten teams he can be traded to. So can he return to form and avoid a messy divorce from the club? He’s the Oiler with the most to prove.
Ty Rattie’s Golden Opportunity
Another player with a lot to prove is Ty Rattie. The 25-year-old has played sparingly in the NHL with just 49 career games under his belt spread over five seasons. Of those 49 games, 14 of them came in 2017-18 during a late-season call-up from the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors. The five-year ‘veteran‘ put up nine points in 14 games to end the 2017-18 season and enters training camp with the job to lose.
Related: Ty Rattie’s Golden Opportunity
Rattie is arguably in the most enviable position of any player in the NHL — having a golden opportunity to start the year riding shotgun to McDavid on the Oilers top line. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is expected to fill the spot on the left side, thus reuniting a line that had modest success to end last season. The real question with Rattie is whether or not he can fill those big shoes and lofty expectations.
The Hockey News is predicting a modest 21-point year for Rattie in their Ultimate Pool Guide. That likely means what most others believe — that Rattie will eventually lose the job to someone whether internal or external at some point. The right wing depth chart is a complete wild card, so anything is possible, and Rattie could fit anywhere from No. 1-4 on the depth chart, and no one would blink an eye.
He’s on an excellent value contract at $800,000 and is a restricted free agent (RFA) next summer with arbitration rights. One criticism that can be made is this; outside of that 14 game stint with Edmonton, Rattie hasn’t done much in the other 35 games in his career (five points). Another is when you look at his 2017-18 season in two parts.
In his first eight games, Rattie registered four goals and seven points, but in his final six games, he got on the scoresheet in just one game (two points). Thus, the jury is still out on the 32nd overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. Can he be a consistent top-six scorer for the Oilers?
We’ll know soon enough.
Cam Talbot: Is He a True No.1?
Lastly, this team is not going anywhere without goaltending. Cam Talbot was a shell of his 2016-17 self as the wheels completely fell off the bus for him. The 31-year-old had a rough 3.02 goals against average (GAA) and a .908 save percentage (SV%) through 67 games. Those numbers are well below his career average (also factor in that his career average has now dipped due to this year) of a 2.50 GAA and a .918 SV% through 253 career games.
He wasn’t sharp early, and more often than not, the Oilers were allowing the first goal of the game, sometimes even on the first shot of the game. That can’t happen again if this team is going to try to get back to the playoffs. With his inconsistency last year, Chiarelli went out and signed KHL standout Mikko Koskinen to one of the more costly deals for a backup goalie at $2.5 million. He’s expected to compete for time in the crease with Talbot.
So far Koskinen has turned a lot of heads and even made them look upwards due to his massive 6-foot-6 frame. The jury is out on him as a backup, and a 60-22 or a 55-27 split in the starting duties seems like the plan. Will more rest for Talbot mean more quality starts? Time will tell. In the meantime, the Pacific Division has some quality starters playing for some quality teams.
If Edmonton is going to catapult themselves back up the standings, they’ll need Talbot to deliver in whatever number of starts he has this year. From all accounts, the Oilers are getting a motivated goalie looking to silence his doubters while entering a contract year. If that doesn’t give you the recipe for a bounce-back year, what does?