How is Milan Lucic likely to age over the next seven seasons?

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:06 am by Jonathan Willis

27-Lucic-1

Milan Lucic is an excellent NHL player in the here-and-now.
I’d be very surprised if he isn’t a big help to the Edmonton Oilers next
season, and given how he plays the game I’d be flat-out shocked if Oilers fans
don’t embrace him.

I was curious though as to how players who scored the way he
has the last three season have tended to age. Lucic’s new deal is seven years
long, and it would be good to have an idea as to how that kind of commitment
typically turns out.

For those who want to just skip to the end, I’ve summed up
the results under the bottom heading.

For those who want more information, a quick primer. I used
the marvelous Hockey Reference to collect
a list of players
who had averaged between 48 and 60 points per 82 games
from the age of 25 to 27 (Lucic, as you’ve likely guessed, averaged 54
points/82 games over that span). Then, because Lucic has been so healthy over
that time period, I eliminated any player who had failed to play in at least 90
percent of his team’s games over those three years.

Then I looked at how many points those players scored in
each of the next seven years. I didn’t adjust for games played or anything like
that, since health is obviously a concern as a player gets into his 30’s. This is what that looks like:

Player 28 29 30 31 32 33 34
Andrew Brunette 69 46 49 lockout 63 83 59
Andrew Ladd 54 62 46      
Antoine Vermette 47 37 36 45 38 38
Bobby Holik 64 46 50 54 35 56 lockout
Brad Boyes 55 23 60 36 38 24
Brian Rolston 62 59 48 lockout 79 64 59
Brooks Laich 41 7 15 20 14  
Bryan Smolinski 56 59 38 46 46 lockout 48
Chris Drury lockout 67 69 58 56 32 5
Clarke MacArthur 55 36 0      
David Backes 48 57 58 45    
Daymond Langkow lockout 59 77 65 49 37 1
Derek Plante 20 4 3 x      
Dmitri Kristich 66 71 30 38 21 x  
Dustin Brown 52 27 27 28    
Dustin Penner 45 17 14 35 x    
Jeff O’Neill lockout 38 42 x      
Jussu Jokinen 46 38 57 44 60  
Mariusz Czerkawski 62 51 14 49 lockout 10 x
Marty McInnis 54 28 42 28 19 x  
Matt Stajan 18 39 33 17 17  
Matthew Lombardi 0 18 14 x      
Michael Ryder 53 33 41 62 35 34 19
Mike Richards 41 16 5      
Paul Stastny 60 46 49      
Petr Sykora lockout 51 53 63 46 3 0
R.J. Umberger 57 40 31 34 15 11
Sami Kapanen 69 31 30 lockout 34 25 8
Scott Hartnell 49 67 19 52 60 49
Shane Doan lockout 66 55 78 73 55 60
Slava Kozlov 38 22 70 52 lockout 71 80
Stephen Weiss 57 7 4 25 x    
Stu Barnes 36 45 43 48 39 29 lockout
Ted Donato 39 27 30 25 0 3 11
Teddy Purcell 42 34 43      
Tomas Plekanec 57 52 56 43 60 54
Vinny Prospal 54 lockout 80 55 71 45 58

Year 1: Age 28

This is a pretty good year for our group of forwards. All of
them are still in the league (though five are locked out).

Andrew Brunette and Sami Kapanen both enjoyed fantastic
years, scoring 69 points and setting the outer marker in this set of players. The
average was 49 points, but lots of players had really good seasons and more
than half scored more than 50 points.

We see a few falling off already, with Edmonton draft pick Matthew
Lombardi at the bottom of the pile. He suffered a head injury and appeared in
only two games. His career would limp on for another couple of seasons but he’d
be out of the league by 31.

Year 2: Age 29

This was another good year for our group of forwards.

Dmitri Kristich topped the 70-point mark, becoming the first
player in this sample to do so. Both the average and the median forward in this
group scored 40 points—R.J. Umberger is basically the representative player at
this age.

We see our first real slip from the group here, with nearly
one-third of the players on the list falling below 30 points. Dustin Penner’s
career really fell off here, though he’d hang around the league for a few more
years. This is also the point at which Dustin Brown went from being a super
useful all-purpose forward to a crazy-expensive third-liner.

Year 3: Age 30

This is the last season in which our entire original group
is still in the league.

Three different players hit the 70-point mark at the age of
30. Vaclav Prospal leads the way with 80 points and was surely a beneficiary of
the post-lockout rule changes which spiked scoring. However, Slava Kozlov also
bounced back from a 22-point effort to record 70 points, and this was two years
before the lockout for him. The average of 39 points is dragged down by some
low performers; the median actually bounces back up to 42 points.

One of those underperformers is Mike Richards. We don’t know
what’s going to happen with Richards the rest of the way, but his 2015-16 stint
with Washington wasn’t encouraging.

Year 4: Age 31

We see our first retirements at this point. Lombardi’s gone;
so too is Jeff O’Neill, who has gone on to a successful second life in
broadcasting. Some more recent players also drop out of our sample here; we
just don’t know what people like Richards or Andrew Ladd look like beyond this
point.

Shane Doan is all alone at the top of our age 31 chart. He
put up 78 points and is the only player in the group to climb above 65. The
average for our remaining players is 44 points, with the median player
recording 45. David Backes’ work in St. Louis last season is a good
representation of the middle of the pack.

A lot of the stragglers have been picked off at this point,
but there are a few sub-30 point scorers here. Brown is one of them; this is
the final year in which we can track his performance. Another guy near the
bottom is Stephen Weiss, in what was almost certainly his last NHL campaign.

Year 5: Age 32

This is where drop-off starts becoming a major concern.
Before Lucic was signed, I heard a lot of smart people intuitively peg the
five-year mark as the right length for a contract, and it’s easy to see why. At
this point, a little more than one player n six has fallen out of the league,
but that number increases rapidly as we go forward.

Still, a bunch of players had great years. Doan and Prospal
both topped 70 points, but Brian Rolston leads the way with 79 points scored
(another beneficiary of the post-lockout boost). The average for these players
is still above 40 points, while the median is a touch lower—think Brad Boyes scoring
14 goals and 38 points in his final year with the Panthers.  

The bottom of the list features a couple of recent players,
with the 2015-16 versions of Matt Stajan and Brooks Laich sitting near the
bottom of the chart.

Year 6: Age 33

Mariusz Czerkawski

Retirement is now a serious risk, with one player in four
from our sample falling out of the league. For the first time in this analysis,
more than half our sample is either retired or manages fewer than 30 points.

Still, there are some strong performances. Brunette scored a
whopping 83 points at age 33, setting a career high. That’s encouraging in some
ways because our basic analysis shows a lot of similarities to Lucic (low shot
volume, high shooting percentage, lots of assists) and represents an encouraging
outer marker.

Both our average and median scoring total from the surviving
players is the same, sitting at 38 points. The 2015-16 version of Antoine
Vermette hits that threshold exactly, and while that’s a little discouraging
(Arizona bought him out of his contract) he’s a guy who can still play and will
likely find a home somewhere.

Stragglers include Umberger, who was bought out of his
contract by Philadelphia at this age. Also on the list is Mariusz Czerkawski,
the Polish Prince, who wasn’t able to take advantage of the post-lockout rule
changes.

Year 7: Age 34

This is the final year of Lucic’s contract with the Oilers,
and the numbers are grim. Fully 40 percent of players from our sample are out
of the league; and additional 30 percent scored fewer than 30 points.

At the far outer end of the spectrum is the wonderful Slava
Kozlov, who posted a career-high 80 points at the age of 34. It’s a 20-point
drop to get to second-place Shane Doan, still going strong with 60 points.

At this juncture, the average and median numbers don’t help
much. Our original sample has fallen to just 12 players once we take into
account lockouts, retirements and guys on this list who aren’t 34 yet. Half of
them scored 48-or-more points at this age; half of them scored fewer than 20
points.

TL;DR

Lucic comps

Based on what our group of comparable scorers did, it seems
fare to break Lucic’s seven-year contract with Edmonton into three parts:

  • The first three years. Everybody’s still in the league, and
    three-quarters of them are still useful offensively. The odds are very much in
    favour of Lucic being full value over this span, though there are a few players who either got hurt (Lombardi) or just collapsed (Brown). 
  • The middle two years. This is where the risk starts to
    increase. Two-thirds of our players are still useful scorers, but fully
    one-third has lost its offensive touch or fallen out of the league altogether.
    Again, the odds are in favour of Lucic providing good value to Edmonton.
  • The final two years. This is the danger zone. Our sample
    shows that there are still players who scored like Lucic in their mid-20’s who
    fared really well here, and if Lucic follows the path of a Brunette, Kozlov or
    Doan the Oilers will be laughing. However, at age 33 more than half our sample
    is below the 30-point mark and half of those are out of the league entirely; at
    age 34, those numbers rise to 70 and 40 percent, respectively.

Lucic should give Edmonton excellent value early on in his
new deal. However, Peter Chiarelli (or his
successor) may ultimately end up wishing that it was a little easier to buyout the last season
or two of this contract.