The clock has started ticking for NHL general managers as the dominos have begun to fall in the NHL trade market thanks to the Pittsburgh Penguins – already one of, if not the most feared teams in the Eastern Conference – acquiring Brendan Morrow and Douglas Murray over the past two days. While it is not unreasonable to believe the Boston Bruins are a team needing to make a move before the April 3rd trade deadline to still be considered amongst the top contenders in the Eastern Conference, there are certainly moves out there to make for general manager Peter Chiarelli to act.
And one of the questions that should be rattling around in Chiarelli’s mind is, for the right piece in return, does he have the intestinal fortitude to let go of Milan Lucic?
Conceptually, we are lead to believe Lucic is a franchise cornerstone type player. Once voted the most feared player in the league by his NHL brethren, Lucic is a hulking power forward, who is seen as the perfect blend of both rough-and-tumble and scoring prowess. Neither afraid to mix it up with the toughest folks in the National Hockey League nor, at the very least, throw his weight around, the presence of Lucic is made even frightening as he combines his physicality with a scoring touch that saw him score a combined 56 goals in the previous two season.
When at his peak, Lucic is the kind of player who can change momentum with one shift, can take over a game. The kind of player a GM would be foolish to quit on.
Lucic, however, seems to play to at that peak less and less these days and has quickly become the most frustrating Bruin to watch.
The Vancouver native began to take heat in Boston after a sub-par postseason in 2011. Lucic faults, however, were easily overlooked that season as the Cup came to Boston. The 24-year old then seemed to redeem himself during the 2011-2012 regular season, finishing third on the team in goals (26) and fourth in points (61), while the Bruins placed second in the Eastern Conference. Lucic then struggled again in the playoffs, with just three assists in last season’s disappointing first round exit in which the Bruins were desperate for offense.
This year, Lucic is once again bringing his physical presence, leading the team with 107 hits heading into Monday night’s matchup with Toronto. While he came out of the gate strong with two goals in the first three games of the season, the left winger has scored only three times since and his goal Monday against Toronto was his first since February 24, more then one calendar month prior.
Just before this fall’s lockout, Lucic signed a three-year contract extension that will kick in next season and carries a cap hit of $6-million. That number will make him the second biggest weight on the Bruins’ salary cap behind captain Zdeno Chara. It is also a number that puts him in the same ballpark as the likes of Patrick Kane (fifth in the NHL in points), Jonathan Toews (eighth in the NHL in points) and the Sedin Twins (one of whom is a former Hart Trophy winner).
A lot of coin for a guy who has as many goals this month as Martin Brodeur.
It is not fair to say the sub-par play of Milan Lucic is the sole blame for the Bruins offensive woes as a whole in the month of March. Guys do have slumps and one lousy month should not define a career. Not to mention how difficult it must be to bring the kind of intensity that endeared Lucic to Bruins fans every night. This, however, is not the first time questions have been asked about Lucic’s ability to maintain his pace and presence as a top-flight player.
There is nothing wrong with a general manager having players he deems “untouchable,” particularly when it comes to a team like the Bruins, which has a nucleus comprised mainly of young players who are either just entering or still approaching their primes. Should Lucic really be on that list for Chiarelli?
To get a player, you have to give up a player and, for the right package, the Bruins should not feel as though they are tethered to Lucic. The more it seems as though he has lost the ferocious spark that embodied his early career, the more he is seemingly a player content to rest on the successful laurels of the past, Lucic is becoming more of a potential threat than an actual threat. A $6-million decoy.
The important part to note is “for the right package.” As frustrating has he has become and as much hope has been lost in his abilities, that potential threat of Milan Lucic, the punishing horse who can change a team, is a valuable chip that could yield a quality return.
Given the years left on his contract and the fact that many teams are still in the hunt for the playoffs, it is more than likely that “right package” will not come about before next week’s trade deadline, so it may be a moot point. A package involving Lucic for a player like Calgary’s Jerome Iginla, who many pundits believe is the Bruins top trade target, would not be a win for Boston. The Bruins need to improve and deepen their roster over the next week. The aging, free agent to be Iginla would certainly do both of those things, and Chiarelli should be willing to pay a good price for the Calgary captain, but not at the expense of any of the Bruins’ top six forwards. Should a proven and promising younger talent, say in the mold of a Bobby Ryan, who is always rumored to be on the move from Anaheim, come available, though?
(NOTE: A Ryan for Lucic deal is unlikely to happen as Anaheim needs to get out from under his contract, not replace it with another inflated one. Just an example.)
Two periods on the third unit were enough to spark Lucic to life against the Maple Leafs on Monday. At this juncture of the season, a game like Monday night’s could be what Lucic needs to get going. The fear, however, and possibly the most annoying part of Lucic’s play, is it can be hypothesized the only thing that might re-light that fire in Lucic and get him to play like the first line player he is moonlighting as is the burn of getting traded. That fear, however, should not stop Chiarelli from making the right deal. It is unlikely Lucic will move anywhere this season, but the loss of Milan Lucic would not destroy the Boston Bruins.
He can be a devastating force, can be a $6-million a year player, can be considered “untouchable,” can be the kind of player most NHL teams are desperate to have on their roster. Milan Lucic, however, needs to start actually being that guy. Regularly. There is no need to run him out of town and dump him for spare parts, but if he is not going to be that guy, why keep him around?
Unleash the Beast or be gone.
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.