At 13:10 of the first period in Saturday night’s Boston Bruins-Buffalo Sabres match-up, Bruins left-wing Milan Lucic mishandled a breakaway attempt and, as a result, lowered his shoulder, laying a vicious body check on Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who was charging from his goal crease to play the loose puck. As Miller spun, toppling to the ground while taking a two-handed swing with his stick at Lucic’s knees, the Boston Bruins once again found themselves in the middle of an NHL controversy regarding questionable hits on somewhat defenseless players.
Though there will be no ongoing investigation against the hulking winger and the on-ice result was not nearly as brutal as last year’s controversial hit by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara on Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty, the Lucic hit was cut from the same cloth and is causing just as great an uproar in the hockey community.
Was the hit dirty? Should the offending Bruin have been suspended? What kind of precedent has this set? All questions that could have been asked about both the Lucic and Chara hits and all the same answers.
No. Yes. Only time will tell.
Some will claim hometown bias, but, while it was a penalty, the only thing that makes this hit dirty was because Miller is a goaltender and, rightly so, goaltenders should be protected. On any other player, and the hit gets lost amongst the other highlights in the Bruins win. The head was not targeted and it was shoulder-to-shoulder. It was a solid, textbook body check.
Why then should Lucic have been suspended? For the very same reason it was noted that Chara should have been suspended for his hit on Pacioretty, which was also vicious, but not dirty: If the NHL claims they are trying to get the more violent hits out of the game, why let Lucic off the hook? Why not send a message? It does not have to be much, sit him for a game, fine him a few thousand dollars, but at least a little something to get the point across.
In a certain sense, it is understandable for not wanting to punish a first offender, but if the NHL is serious, truly serious, about getting the more violent and vicious hits out of the game, as they have vehemently proclaimed to be in recent history, they cannot continue to wait for a “pattern of behavior” to develop before stepping in and disciplining a player. Regardless of anyone’s personal beliefs on the issue of violence in hockey, the NHL has taken theirs, but it is starting to look like they are not willing to live up to it.
Now that the NHL’s chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan has made his ruling, however, and Lucic has declined to make any sort of public retorts to Miller’s claims the brash Bruin is “gutless,” the Bruins can try and put this issue behind them until the two teams meet up again in little over a week. The bigger question at the moment for the Boston Bruins regarding to their second leading scorer at the moment is what exactly are we to think of Milan Lucic?
Superstar in the making, capable of carrying a franchise or a big-bodied thug who just happens to be opportunistic? Is this just another case of Boston overrating one of its own players?
Lucic has long since been thought to be a vital part of the Boston Bruins, ever since the power forward showed flashes of brilliance as a 19 year-old rookie in 2007-2008. At 6’4”, 220 lbs. with a nose for the net and a willingness to throw his weight around and get his hands dirty, it did not take long for the Black-and-Gold faithful to label the Vancouver native as the “Next Big, Bad Bruin,” the “Next Cam Neely.” Lucic’s beastly play was strong enough that he signed a four-year deal worth more than $16-million after just two years in the league. Phil Kessel was shipped out of town and Milan Lucic became the face of the Future of the Boston Bruins.
After a poor, yet injury plagued 2009-2010 campaign, his third in the league, and just 34 career goals to his credit, Lucic began to become to player many hoped he would in 2010-2011. Playing on the Bruins top line last season, Lucic led the team in goals (30), game-winning goals (7) and points (62). The positive trends have continued this season with Lucic second on the team in goals (8) and points (14) through 15 games. Lucic, however, like the Bruins themselves, struggled throughout October, with just three goals and seven points in ten games. As the calendar turned to November, Lucic, like the Bruins themselves, found his groove, starting the month with a four-game point streak – snapped Saturday night versus Buffalo – that saw the former second round pick score five goals, leading some to attribute the Bruins’ turnaround directly to Lucic’s improved play.
Of late, it is hard to agree with anything negative said about Lucic’s game and he has been a big factor in the Bruins improved play. In the last five games, not only has Lucic put points on the board, but he has once again begun to implement his physical play on most shifts, the most important contribution he can make to the Bruins top line and something he has not done this consistently since his second year in the league. That is why this will be the year it is discovered how valuable Milan Lucic is as a hockey player.
While the ending numbers were very good for Lucic last season – career high in goals and points to lead the team, ending the season with a Stanley Cup – they do not tell the story how Lucic played last season. Nearly a third of that career-high 30 goals were empty net goals, while Lucic was virtually a ghost in the playoffs, with just five goals and 12 points over 25 playoff games. It was not the breakout season many thought it was. Lucic did take advantage of the opportunity, putting up numbers while playing on the Bruins top line and he is a player who does have talent and can be a game-changing force. Potential, however, means nothing until it is realized.
A dirty, cheap-shot artist who is “gutless” as Miller claims? He may have been that on Saturday night, but the hit on Miller was a bad mistake that does not define Lucic as a hockey player. The next Cam Neely? He is probably not that either, but if Lucic can keep up his recent pace, continue to carry the team with his physical play, being a presence both on the ice and in the scoring column, it will go a long way in helping Milan Lucic become the next great Bruins power-forward.
This will be the year we find out how good Milan Lucic really is.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.