What started as rumblings has turned into a full-fledged rumour: the Canucks are reportedly interested in Lucic, a once-great player on a now-terrible contract. The rumours involve the Canucks moving their own struggling veteran on an awful contract, Loui Eriksson, back to Edmonton. There was even idle speculation about the possibility of the Flames getting involved: a three-way trade with Lucic going to Vancouver, Eriksson to Calgary, and James Neal going to Edmonton.
It’s a classic case of familiarity breeding contempt. The Canucks must be tired of Eriksson’s lack of production, particularly considering he’s currently the highest-paid forward on the team. Jim Benning called Eriksson “disappointing,” since he was expecting him to be a “consistent 20-goal scorer.”
Likewise, the Oilers have to be sick of Lucic’s offence dying on the vine over the last three seasons, going from 50 points to 34 to 20. It’s understandable that each team could look over the provincial border, see the other team’s problem contract and think, “He can’t be as bad as our guy.”
Both Lucic and Eriksson provide value when they take the ice. Unfortunately, that value is in no way commensurate to their current contracts. Both forwards wound up on the third and fourth lines last season; generally speaking, you don’t want to pay third and fourth liners six million dollars per year. For the same price, you can get one whole Colonel Steve Austin every year, who would protect your team’s youth from the threat of Bigfoot.
Last season, Eriksson was situationally-useful as a linemate for Elias Pettersson, but struggled to actually put up points. He was disastrous on the power play, where he played over 100 minutes and managed just three points.
Eriksson found most of his value on the penalty kill, where he was legitimately one of the best penalty killers in the entire NHL. When looking at rate statistics among forwards that spent at least 80 minutes at 4-on-5, Eriksson was tenth in unblocked shot attempts against, fifth in shots on goal against, and fourth in both expected goals against and actual goals against.
In other words, Eriksson became a specialist for the Canucks, a player that didn’t provide much at all at even-strength, but was a key player on one side of special teams. That can be a valuable player, the type of bottom-six forward that you might be willing to pay around $1.5 to $2 million.
Meanwhile, Lucic lost his coveted spot alongside Connor McDavid that he enjoyed over his first couple seasons in Edmonton, and it’s understandable why. He didn’t have a single 5-on-5 goal with McDavid in nearly 100 minutes this past season and he finished with just six goals.
Lucic still has a positive impact on puck possession, with his 50.72% corsi leading all Oilers that played over 500 minutes at 5-on-5 last season. The problem is that possession hasn’t turned into offence and he’s done about as well as Eriksson with the man advantage, with four power play points in just over 100 minutes.
He’s also a big and scary dude. He can still hit like a mack truck and drop the gloves, for those who see value in that element of the game. How effective he is at protecting his teammates is up for debate; remember, he was on the ice when Matt Cooke essentially ended Marc Savard’s career. Would Lucic being on the ice have prevented Michael Matheson chokeslamming Elias Pettersson or Sven Baertschi getting blindsided in the head? Consider me a skeptic.
Essentially, he’s a physical third or fourth-liner, maybe worth $1.5 to $2 million. Hm, that value sounds familiar.
Neither player brings much offence at this point in their careers, but they’re about equally valuable, just in different ways. Where Eriksson provides a positive impact on the penalty kill, Lucic brings positive puck possession at 5-on-5 in a bottom-six role.
Perhaps those different roles make the two players a little more desirable to the opposing team. The Oilers had the second-worst penalty kill in the NHL last season, while the Canucks were one of the worst puck possession teams in the league, so there’s potentially a fit. And both teams could possibly believe that new surroundings would help each player rekindle their offence.
Here’s the primary issue: while both players are about equal in value on the ice, their contracts aren’t equal at all.
Sure, they both have a cap hit of $6 million per year, but while Eriksson is signed for three more years, Lucic has another four years on his deal. To make matters worse, Lucic has a no movement clause, which could cause problems in the upcoming Seattle expansion draft.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Lucic would agree to waive his clause to go to Vancouver without arranging for that clause to be upheld by the Canucks. That means he would have to be protected in the expansion draft, potentially exposing a young forward that the Canucks would rather protect.
That extra year and the complication of Lucic’s NMC means that a one-for-one deal doesn’t make sense. As Darren Dreger has said, “There would have to be some type of sweetener coming from the Edmonton Oilers to take on the extra year.”
Just how sweet does the sweetener need to be?
Given Jim Benning’s track record, it’s likely that he’d prefer the addition of an NHL-ready prospect. Plenty of people have tossed out Jesse Puljujarvi, the fourth overall pick from the 2016 draft, who has fallen out of favour in Edmonton after some early struggles. Others have suggested Kailer Yamamoto. That might be sweet enough from the Canucks' standpoint.
Personally, I’m skeptical the Oilers would consider those deals. Puljujarvi has real value if the Oilers want to trade him, with plenty of teams likely to line up to take a chance on the 6'4" winger, while I doubt they’re ready to give up on the 20-year-old Yamamoto, who just finished his first professional season. What’s more likely is a prospect further down the depth chart, like Cooper Marody, and that's barely a pinch of sugar.
Even more likely than that is a draft pick. At best, the Canucks could hope for a second-round pick, but it would likely be lower than that. Alternatively, the Canucks could suggest swapping first-round picks from 10th to 8th. Is that worth the future headache of Lucic’s more onerous contract?
To be frank, I wouldn't trade Eriksson for Lucic for any of these sweeteners: the extra year and the NMC are a significant problem that could cost the Canucks a younger player in the expansion draft and cause cap problems down the line.
If the Canucks are set on making this deal, and prospects like Puljujarvi and Yamamoto aren’t available, perhaps they could simultaneously address their need on the right side of their defence. They could potentially target Ethan Bear or Joel Persson, who played with Elias Pettersson in the SHL with the Vaxjo Lakers.
Would either defenceman be sweet enough to make an Eriksson for Lucic swap more palatable? Not really, but it would at least make some sort of sense.
Really, the Canucks are probably better off just hanging on to Eriksson, hoping for a marginal improvement next season, then trying to trade him in 2020, when his biggest signing bonuses have been paid out and his no-trade clause becomes a modified NTC that allows for a 16-team list.