It looks as if Milan Lucic will play in the Calgary Flames preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks on September 23. It’s the first action the sturdy forward has had since he’s was traded from the Edmonton Oilers with a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft for James Neal.
The jury is out on whether Lucic can have an impact playing with the Flames, but Monday’s game will be a good chance for Lucic to show his stuff. He’ll be suiting up with many of the Flames starters, so at least he has a “fighting” chance. Still, he’ll have to show exceedingly well if he hopes to rise anywhere above a bottom-six role. Why? Because he just hasn’t had the scoring success needed to stay on a top forward line.
Does Lucic Have a Chance?
One thing in Lucic’s favor is that he seems not to have lingering effects from the lower-body injury he suffered in April of last season. One thing he’s working against is his recent lack of success on the ice. Although he started strong in his first Edmonton Oilers’ season, the 31-year-old forward only scored (in total) 39 goals in his three seasons with the Oilers. That wasn’t even close to the 139 points he scored in his eight seasons with the Boston Bruins.
With a salary-cap hit at $6 million AAV, his offensive production simply wasn’t enough to make him of lasting value to the Oilers. They needed more from him and eventually gave up. I’m sure both the Oilers and Lucic were happy with his chance to change teams this offseason.
The Oilers signed Lucic on July 1, 2016, to great cheering. Lucic’s seven-year contract seemed like a bargain. Lucic had scored more than 25 goals and 60 points during both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. With the Bruins and in 2015-16 with the Los Angeles Kings, he had become the very definition of a tough-playing, high-scoring power forward. When he signed with the Oilers, fans believed he would be able to ride shotgun as protection for their generational player, superstar Connor McDavid.
Oilers fans will remember that on Nov. 3, 2015, McDavid was skating through the Philadelphia Flyers zone and got smashed by the Flyer’s Brandon Manning, fell hard into the end boards, and broke his clavicle. The 37 games he missed cost him the chance to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. Ironically, Manning (who’s currently playing with the Oilers) admitted that he had tried to injure McDavid.
Thus Lucic was more than a good hockey player, he was McDavid’s guardian. It simply didn’t work. That said, one thing you cannot fault Lucic on is his willingness to be a warrior anywhere he’s played. He plays hurt; he protects teammates, and he has always been a physical on-ice presence.
Still, Lucic is not nearly the player he was and his contract turned into an albatross. He became “available” when the Oilers’ general manager Ken Holland was asked to clean up the mess Peter Chiarelli made of the team.
Moving to the Flames
Basically, Lucic’s trade to the Flames for Neal was a chance for two teams to trade for each other’s bad contracts and shed a player neither any longer wanted. Obviously, Edmonton added a “sweetener” to make the trade work for the Flames.
Having watched the Oilers and Lucic for many seasons, it’s tough to see Lucic making a regular impact with the Flames. Lucic’s played a physical game, in the tradition of the Dallas Star’s Jamie Benn. As a result, his body might be older than his chronological years. He remains big and strong, and at one time he could literally both carry a defender on his back and on his stick. Can he still?
He’s a mountain of a player, but that physical style of play has worn him down. He no longer can intimidate an opponent with his power every game. Yet, for one shift and for one game, there’s a chance he could bring back that strength.
Lucic was never a speedy skater, and today’s NHL now depends more upon speed than it did when Lucic had such success with the Bruins. In today’s NHL, one needs both speed and power. Hockey is faster, quicker, and more demanding. Is Lucic fast enough to compete?
Obviously, there remain questions to answer.
Good Luck to Lucic
Give Milan Lucic credit, he’s been a warrior and probably still is. Can he make it this season with the Flames? We won’t know yet, but Monday’s game might offer us a chance to find out. He’ll be an interesting player to watch.
That said, I don’t doubt that Lucic can still, when he chooses to be, a mean-spirited, tough-as-nails fourth-liner who can, in the right spot, instill the fear of God into a player who’s playing fast and loose with a Flames’ teammate.
I have to give credit to Lucic. He’s had a solid NHL career, and he’s been a warrior. I wish him luck in his attempt at a comeback.
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