What Will the Kings get out of Milan Lucic?
We know that the skilled power forward can throw some fists, but what else does he bring to the table?
Milan Lucic fights. He hits. He's tough. He's mean. He has "snarl" and plays on the edge. He will try to get under his opponent's skin much in the same way that Dustin Brown does, though probably with a bit more verbal prodding. That's all well and good.
For the most part, none of that will actively hurt the Kings. I am not particularly interested in a debate on intangibles in hockey right now, so I'll leave that for another time. If you happen to value it, Lucic probably has it. He'll certainly make the team "more difficult to play against" in some sense of the word.
What does Milan Lucic tangibly contribute to a hockey team, though?
For starters, he has been a pretty good scorer in his NHL career. Last season, Milan Lucic put up a 1.69 points/60 rate, which would've tied him with Marian Gaborik if he'd done that for the Kings. Lucic did that while playing with David Krejci and David Pastrnak. Hopefully he can continue to produce while playing with players not named David, as the Kings come up appallingly short in this aspect. Maybe they could bring back David Van der Gulik?
It seems like he will start the season on the top line with Kopitar and Gaborik. By the numbers, this seems like a good fit. In all likelihood, Lucic will not drag down his linemates. Krejci's lines were far less productive when they were bereft of Lucic than they were when the two played together. Meanwhile, Lucic was basically the same player with or without Krejci. This also isn't the work of Patrice Bergeron, as Lucic rarely played with Boston's most prized forward at any point of his career.
Though Lucic was productive last season, he has been trending downward offensively over the past few seasons. In 2011/12, Lucic put up 2.56 points/60 during 5v5 play. Since then, his points/60 has declined in each season.
Lucic's dip in point production isn't very tied to poor percentage numbers either. His SH% did dip in a big way in 12/13, but it bounced back the next season and his point production still declined. During his best season, he likely got a bit lucky. His personal SH% was 16.52 during 5v5 play, which is the second best figure of his career. It is likely that he is a high percentage shooter, but it is very unlikely that he ever reaches that level again.
He and his teammates collectively amassed a 9.92 SH% while Lucic was on the ice that season. That number ties his career high. It is extremely unlikely that he hits that mark with the Kings. Even aside from the fact that it is unreasonable to expect a well-established player to match a career high in any given season, it is possible that there may be something to the idea that the Kings systematically suppress their own offensive abilities.
Moreover, Lucic's future center, my personal hero Anze Kopitar, has only ever exceeded a 9.0 on ice SH% one time. Otherwise, Kopi's on ice SH% has sat much closer to 8%. That is probably closer to what we can expect out of Lucic. Even if we're generous and say that Lucic has a positive impact on his linemates' shooting abilities, that would maybe bring us up to 8.5%.
So far we've only looked at production. How did Boston control play with Lucic on the ice?
Mostly they've done pretty darn well. His most recent two seasons aren't great (-0.8 and -0.5 Corsi Rel, respectively), but otherwise he's been very good.
Is there anything that changed over the past few seasons that might explain his decline in possession numbers? Maybe. While his center has consistently been David Krejci since 2010, his right winger prior to 2013/14 was Nathan Horton. Together, the Lucic - Krejci - Horton line was dynamite. Since 2010, Lucic has put up a 54.2% Corsi. When he played on a line with Nathan Horton, it was 56.8. Away from Horton, it drops all the way to 52.7. That's still respectable, but it isn't amazing.
Fortunately, he's going to find stellar possession players in Los Angeles. Most likely, he'll see his Corsi Rel return to positive levels simply because his linemates are going to be better. This isn't a knock on David Krejci; not being as good as Anze Kopitar is just a fact that we all have to live with.
Last season, the Gaborik/Kopitar duo put up an almost unbelievable 60.3% Corsi. Some of that was due to the Justin Williams effect, but Gaborik and Kopitar spent more time together without Williams than they did with him. They were excellent in their own right, and we have no reason to believe that Lucic will make things worse.
So what can we expect out of Milan Lucic next season? Here's my best guess:
Milan Lucic Projection (5v5)
Most of this is pretty basic. Assuming he plays around 80 games at around 14 minutes per game - we don't know how Sutter will use him, so we'll just go by career norms - he'll wind up around 1130 minutes.
He's put up somewhere between 6 and 7 shots per 60 minutes of ice time in each of the past 4 seasons. We'll put him closer to the higher end simply because he'll be playing with better linemates, but there's little reason to believe that he will suddenly start pouring shots on net. Even though the Kings possess the puck better than Boston has, they do so with better shot suppression, not shot production. In fact, in 3 of the past 4 seasons, Boston has shot the puck more than Los Angeles. So, a slight bump over last season seems somewhat appropriate. He has a chance to beat this projection, but we'll be conservative. Anything more than this starts approaching his career best numbers, which is something to avoid in a projection.
Lucic has been a 15% shooter at times in his career, but 2 of his past 3 seasons have been far below this mark. We'll put him at a random place between his low (8.7%) and high (15.0%) marks in this stretch. 12.8% works for me. Based on the shot projection, this would give him 16 goals.
Surprisingly, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik are not better goal scorers than he's used to playing with. Once upon a time, Gaborik would have been, but not at this point in his career. Because of this, we have no reason to expect any large difference between Boston-Lucic and Los Angeles-Lucic. Again, we'll just throw him somewhere between his high and low marks over the past few seasons. He's ranged anywhere from 0.89 assists/60 to 1.57 in his career. Arbitrarily, I decided to put him at 1.2. That would give him 18 assists.
The Corsi is just a guess. Seems reasonable. Go Kings.
To this point, all I've discussed has been 5v5 play. Power plays are tough to predict: we don't know how he'll be used, we don't really know how he'll fit in the Kings system, and so on. We do know that, historically, the Kings and Bruins power plays have produced at similar rates. Since the 2010/11 season, the two teams have matching 6.2 goals/60 rates on the power play. Assuming Milan Lucic performs similar to how he did in Boston, we can assume he'll have somewhere between 8 and 14 points. Arbitrarily, again, I'll give him 11. Sure. Why not.
It seems to me that the Kings will get something like 20 goals and 45 points out of their new acquisition next season. Neat.
Of course, all of this will be meaningless if he doesn't play with Anze Kopitar, but I see little reason for this to occur at this point. He is one of the 6 best offensive players on the Kings' roster as it is currently constructed, and his deployment ought to reflect that. He's probably going to go from good linemates to great ones, which may help his production a bit. Most likely, the fact that he plays with better linemates will be more evident in possession numbers than production rates.
The Kings did trade for a very good player. Though some of his production rates have declined, I'm not sure that he's actually in decline himself. It seems like he's a good player that had a few great seasons and has since settled in to who he truly is.