Boston Bruins’ power forward Milan Lucic turned 24 years old this past week.
Yes, I know, it’s pretty hard to believe. I am only a few months younger than Lucic and have never tired of joking that he looks five years more mature for our age, whereas I look five years less mature.
However, it is a fact that Bruins buffs and, more critically, the Bruins front office should keep in mind as they assess what Lucic has done for them in recent history and try to gauge his value for the long run.
The notion of reaping rewards by trading the winger after five years in Boston is understandable on the surface, especially with some fans questioning his playoff proficiency and with his hefty $4,083,333 cap hit.
Lucic’s career is likely somewhere between only one-third and one-quarter completed, though, meaning his best days are surely still ahead. And for every prom night pimple on his transcript, there is at least one plus point to certify his aptitude.
In turn, the right way to tweak head coach Claude Julien’s line chart is to make roster room and cap room for an imported top-sixer to nudge Lucic over to Boston’s third line. That way, he can go back to efficiently exercising the fruitful physicality and sniffing out the clutch scoring that defined his earlier years with the Bruins.
From the triumphant culmination of his major-junior days and into at least his first three seasons in the pros, Lucic was propping up an enviable reputation for big-game prowess. He logged three goals within his first three Game 7s in the Stanley Cup playoffs and then topped Boston’s charts with 30 goals and 62 points in the 2010-11 regular season.
However, in that internal scoring race, he hobbled to the finish line with zero goals and seven assists over the last 10 games and only four points in the last nine. In the postseason, his 10-game goal-scoring drought stretched to 20, including the entire opening round versus Montreal and each of three straight wins over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Then again, he picked a decent time to unleash the dormant carbonation, scoring a power-play icebreaker and the first of three insurance strikes in a 5-1 Game 4 triumph. With that, Lucic all but piloted Boston’s flight to completing a redemptive sweep of the Flyers.
One round later, although his team deferred on its first try to close out the Lightning, he did his part in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals with a goal, an assist and a plus-two rating. In the next game, he was on the ice for Nathan Horton’s series-clincher.
This past season, Lucic was goal-less in a seven-game opening round for the second year in a row and went pointless altogether in the first four games against Washington. To his credit, though, he did whip up a pair of assists in Game 6, which at least helped the Bruins to stave off elimination for one more night.
And while some of his playoff output has evaporated over the last two years, Lucic has evened out his highs and lows for consistently impressive regular seasons. With the exception of his rookie campaign and an injury-riddled 2009-10 season, his final shooting accuracy has always been in the 17 percent range.
In his first three Stanley Cup tournaments, Lucic hit the net on 16.7 percent of his shots in 2008, 15 percent in 2009 and 20.8 percent in 2010. And those were the years when he was seeing no more than 15 or 16 minutes of ice time per night.
Conversely, as his ice time began to ascend to between 18 and 20 minutes per game in 2011 and 2012, his playoff shooting percentage plunged to an 8.9 last year and a Blutarsky (0.0) this year.
The more the Bruins expect from Lucic, the less they get—but that hardly means he doesn’t have enough to give or that they should give him to someone else.
With goaltender Tim Thomas’ self-assigned respite for next season, Lucic is one of only six active players left from Julien’s inaugural season in 2007-08. He, along with Shawn Thornton, is one of the two who came to Boston concomitant with Julien and played a part in unhesitatingly transforming the club from perennial playoff no-shows to perennial championship contenders.
GM Peter Chiarelli must retain as much of that remaining core―rounded out by Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Andrew Ference and David Krejci―as he can for as long as he can. At the same time, he must task Julien with re-giving Lucic a more adequate opportunity to contribute.
The ideal type of Lucic is the type allowed to exercise his gifts on the appropriately labeled checking line and still put up regular-season numbers similar to those of Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. He is then not overtaxed in the playoffs so as to have the right amount of energy to rough up the opposition and strike the net at opportune moments.
That move would be worth the cap hit and worthy of all-around acclaim. And no other Lucic-related move would serve the Bruins’ best interest.