Quite frankly, it boggles my mind that any hockey fan could argue that a ‘change of scenery’ for Milan Lucic would turn his career around. Would this change of scenery involve a time machine? Because Milan Lucic is not cut out for NHL play in 2019.
Milan Lucic’s two game suspension for sucker punching Columbus’ Kole Sherwood wasn’t Lucic sticking up for his teammates in a ‘hockey play’. It wasn’t even a moment of blind rage. It was simply Milan Lucic trying to remain relevant in a league that passed him by.
We discussed Lucic’s suspension, his role on the Flames and what the future could have in store for the struggling power forward on Episode #238. Listen below:
Never the fastest or the most skilled player, Lucic relied on the momentum swings from big hits or fights to turn the game in his favour. A career high 30 goal scorer in a much different, much slower NHL in 2010/11, his point totals and contributions to his team(s) began to dip each season following his Stanley Cup win in 2011. Bruins’ president Cam Neely noticed this and wanted general manager Peter Chiarelli to ship him off to Los Angeles while Lucic’s trade value was still somewhat respectable. Chiarelli did not agree with Neely and was not on board with trading Lucic which became a key factor in his eventual dismissal as Bruins’ general manager. Chiarelli was fired, Lucic was traded and a year later in Edmonton, Chiarelli got his boy back, at SIX MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR.
Entering year four of his seven year deal this year, Lucic and a 2020 3rd round pick were traded to Calgary for James Neal. Two guys in desperate need of a change of scenery. It’s Alberta, can you blame them?
Lucic entered a stacked Flames roster with a variety of players that share the attributes he was supposed to posses. He was instantly lost in the shuffle. Too slow and not skilled enough for the top six, he was quickly slotted into a fourth line role.
Sandpaper. Grit. Toughness. Whatever you want to call it, it’s an integral part to an NHL team looking to win in the regular season and go deep in the playoffs. Only problem for Milan Lucic is, the Flames have a handful of guys that can play a rough and tumble game, put the puck in the net all for less money too. Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk are younger, better Milan Lucics all at a combined price tag of $9.5 million with integral roles on the Flames. Meanwhile, Lucic is barely on the score sheet with three assists in 16 games played.
The role Milan Lucic has been relegated to is still a significant and important one to today’s game. The shining example of this role is Vegas’ Ryan Reaves. He is an intimidating agitator. He can score a few goals and is arguably the toughest guy in the league. His style of play can swing momentum in Vegas’ favour on a nightly basis and he gets noticed for all the right reasons. All at a price tag of just $2.775 million per year.
He is a younger, faster, better and cheaper Milan Lucic. Because Milan Lucic isn’t doing what Ryan Reaves does. Lucic is grasping at straws, desperate for fights and big physical moments, since that is all he can do at this point in his career.
But what Milan Lucic is facing is nothing new. Take a look at David Backes in Boston. A player with almost identical career trajectory as Lucic. A couple 30ish goal seasons in the same era as Milan, and a power forward who just couldn’t keep up in a top six role in this league. Both players making $6 million a year to fight on the fourth line, though Backes is four years older than the 31 year old Lucic.
As we discussed on the podcast this week, Lucic’s best years are long behind him and he has arguably the ugliest contract in the league. He’s stuck in Calgary on a cash-strapped Flames team looking to win now. And they’re looking to win now in spite of that $6 million AAV cap hit. Lucic’s role on the Calgary Flames is going to be an interesting story line to follow the rest of this 2019/20 NHL season.
If Brett Hull could swallow his pride and admit the game had passed him by during his brief stint with the (then) Phoenix Coyotes after the 2004/05 lockout, then so can Lucic.
But that’s easier said than done.