Redundancies on the roster are going to get a lot more attention now that the Oilers are in the process of allocating significant dollars towards their core players. With McDavid signed long-term, and the Oilers likely committing to Draisaitl and possibly Nurse in the near future, the team has to take a proactive approach to deal with contracts and cap constraints. The goal is a championship, so it’ll be imperative that they make every dollar count and get as much production as possible from their resources.
What we’ll likely see going forward is annual turnover with players getting moved if the team feels like (a) they need cap space and/or (b) they can replace a player and their skill set with a cheaper option. For example, it’s looking more likely that Nugent-Hopkins could be moved as a case can be made that Draisaitl is the team’s second-best center and it’s not worth spending $6 million for your third best pivot when you have Strome in the fold. There are plenty of issues with this type of rationale as the Oilers would be taking some risk with this move, but the point is that trade gossip will surround players who could be replaced by a cheaper, internal option.
This brings us to the case of 29 year old winger Patrick Maroon, who’s heading towards free agency and will likely command dollars and term to take him into retirement. He was excellent last season playing predominantly on McDavid’s wing and leading the team with 25 even-strength goals. He posted the best Coris For% relative to the team (+5.13%), as the club and individual players posted better possession numbers with him on the ice than without him. And he was one of the few players who posted good possession numbers without McDavid on the ice. Unfortunately for the Oilers, they may not be able to afford Maroon’s next deal.
Now the Oilers could make the case that they have an identical player in Milan Lucic, who has a long history of success with Boston, and who they’ve already invested heavily in with a 7-year, $42 million buyout-proof contract. They’re both heading into the latter parts of their careers now and play a similar style and role for the club, so it might not make sense to commit additional dollars and term to the wing.
The question is, if the Oilers absolutely had to choose between the two, would it be in their best interest to retain Maroon long-term instead of Lucic?
First off, it would likely be cheaper to sign Maroon. He’s not yet a free agent and doesn’t hold as much leverage as Lucic did in the summer of 2016. And quite honestly, Maroon doesn’t have the history and the reputation that hockey narratives get attached to like Lucic has, so he may not get the same kind of attention from managers.
Secondly, while both players are going to be 30 this season and are likely to see their production dip, as it’s expected to with age (Source: Hockey Graphs), Maroon has played far fewer games than Lucic and may not have as much physical wear and tear. In seven NHL seasons, Maroon has played 301 regular season games and 42 playoff games. Lucic on the other hand, has played 729 regular season games and 114 playoff games in ten seasons. That’s a significant difference, and while past experience matters to an NHL roster, it could impact how much real, on-ice production the team will get in the future.
Lastly, in identical minutes and deployment last season, Maroon posted better numbers than Lucic. Here’s a quick glance at how both players did in 2016/17 at even-strength (5v5).
Maroon had the better season, leading the team in even-strength goals and finishing third on the team with 35 points. Lucic, on the other hand, saw plenty of ice time, but had his worst season production-wise at 5v5, finishing with 1.22 points per 60.
While the team did well possession wise and in terms of goal-share with either player on the ice at even-strength, the team had a slightly better numbers with Maroon. This had a lot to do with the fact that Maroon was with McDavid and Draisaitl, who were golden as a trio. Maroon also posted an absurdly high individual shooting percentage, well above his career norms, which we can probably expect to regress especially if he’s not playing regularly on McDavid’s wing.
What’s also worth noting here is how each player did in similar situations last season. What I’ve done below is look at how Maroon and Lucic did with the different centers, and included the scenario where Draisaitl was playing wing.
|With McDavid and Draisaitl||TOI||CF%||GF%||PDO|
Once Maroon found himself on the top line, he was there for good. He had almost instant chemistry with McDavid and along with Draisaitl posted a 60.4% goal-share. What’s worth noting here is that Lucic posted a 61.6% Corsi For% in the same situation in 74 minutes, but the shooting percentage took a dive.
But what about situations where Draisaitl was center, and McDavid or any of the other pivots were not on the ice?
|With Draisaitl as C||TOI||CF%||GF%||PDO|
Here we see that both Maroon and Lucic spent a lot of time in this scenario, with Draisaitl doing much better with Maroon on his wing. The goal-share was strong and was riding the percentages a bit, but there was a decent shot-share supporting them. A 46.5% Corsi For% in 119 minutes with Lucic and Draisaitl is concerning, and would need either more sheltering, which the Oilers can’t afford to do, or a strong second winger with them to have any success. Considering how much money is being spent, and how poorly they produced together, that’s not really acceptable.
Another scenario is Nugent-Hopkins playing center, quite often in a hard-minutes role.
|With RNH as C||TOI||CF%||GF%||PDO|
Here we see that both Maroon and Lucic struggled to produce with RNH, posting goal-shares below 50%. The possession numbers were much better with Maroon on the ice with RNH, which is somewhat surprising considering the tougher minutes RNH typically played.
Another scenario that we didn’t see a lot of was both Maroon and Lucic spent time on a line with RNH and Draisaitl. Decent possession numbers for both line combinations, and possibly something to consider next year.
|With RNH and Draisaitl||TOI||CF%||GF%||PDO|
And finally, both Maroon and Lucic, again in limited minutes, spent time with Letestu at center. If the Oilers want to give Letestu and their depth players a boost, and improve the team’s shot-share, it would be beneficial to pair them with Maroon.
If the Oilers absolutely had to choose between Lucic and Maroon to play in the top six and be the physical winger on the team, it would make a lot more sense from a long-term cap perspective to go with Maroon. He was much more productive last season than Lucic, with the team, and individual players, doing much better with him on the ice at even-strength. While we can hope that Lucic bounces back next year, this could be the start of his decline, which could have a significant impact to the Oilers championship aspirations.