To categorize the offensive output of Milan Lucic in 2013 as “disappointing” would be an understatement. With just 5 goals in 38 games (including a stretch of 24 games in which he has scored just 1), Lucic would be on pace for a grand total of 11 goals in a full 82 game season, well short of his career high of 30.
In digging a little deeper, one sees that his shots are only slightly down (on pace for 11 fewer than he fired off in 2011-12), but his shooting percentage is a full 0.097 points down from a year ago, suggesting that his shots may not be of the highest quality. And as far as “fancy stats” go, Lucic ranks 4th among Bruins forwards with an On-Ice Corsi rating (goals + saves + missed shots + blocks) of 18.30, meaning that while the Bruins so-called first line has struggled to put the puck in the net, they’re still generating shots at a fairly high rate.
And on the other side of the puck, Lucic would actually be on pace to rack up career highs in hits and blocked shots over 82 games (which raises a whole other discussion on Lucic’s presence in relation to his production.)
But despite all that, and as a guy who is set to start making an average of $6 million over the next 3 years, the outcry over his lack of production grows louder every day.
Call me over-analytical, but it seems as though there’s something deeper going on than “LOOCH SUCKS!” One simply doesn’t experience this kind of severe drop off without certain factors playing a large role.
So here’s what we know.
On January 17th (of course), and in the midst of a training camp in which he was called out by many for being out of shape, Milan Lucic and his wife Brittany became first-time parents. In the report by James Murphy, Lucic is quoted as having said the following:
It’s a new chapter that’s starting in my life and I’m just happy that everything went smooth and everyone’s healthy. Now I can just sit back and focus on hockey.
Lucic actually got off to a pretty decent start to the season, scoring 3 goals and 3 assists in Boston’s first 9 games, largely quieting those who questioned his conditioning coming into the season.
But about a month into the season, and after flying with the Bruins to Winnipeg for a game vs the Jets, Lucic was forced to fly back to Boston due to an unspecified “personal reason.” Here’s how Coach Claude Julien described the interruption:
It’s personal reasons. He’s gone back to Boston. It’s one of those things that happens every once in a while and we’re all human here. So he’s gone back to Boston. (Pro Hockey Talk)
Commenting after the fact in a Bruins Blog post, Lucic himself added the following:
Like Coach [Claude Julien] said and everyone said, it was personal reasons, and the good thing is everyone is home and healthy now, and that’s basically it. It was a long last three couple days, flying to Winnipeg and flying all the way back as soon as I got out there. But like I said, everyone is happy and healthy, and that’s the main thing.
Now, without knowing exactly what happened back in February, it’s somewhat clear that Lucic was dealing with some sort of health issue on the home front, whether it be with his wife or child. And since that time, Lucic has scored just 2 goals, and the buzz surrounding his lack of production only continues to increase.
Whether or not that “personal issue” directly contributed to his swoon is unknown, but here’s what I (as a father of two very young boys) can say with some degree of certainty: young parents can struggle to cope with the challenges of the early childhood on the best of days, but all bets are off when you throw in any potential health complications. Toss in the added pressures of professional sports, the expectations that come with being one of the team’s top players and a compressed game / travel schedules, and one could imagine that there might be all kinds of personal issues that Lucic or any player in his skates might be facing off the ice.
Julien hit on a key point in his comment: we’re all human. As much as fans and observers want to see players shoot and score and hit game in and game out in some sort of detached robot-like fashion, the reality for everyone in any workplace is that we can become distracted and affected by things that are happening at home, and even more so when we’re not always around to offer tangible support and assistance.
Look, I’m not offering an excuse for Lucic here. Anyone who’s talented enough to reach the NHL and earn that kind of dough has no doubt been skilled in dealing with various pressures and distractions along the way. This is merely a potential reason for his struggles, and one that should not be so easily brushed off if it is indeed the case. Fans have every right to expect much from him (causing some to yell out “LOOCH YOU BUM” with some consistency), based on what he has accomplished and how he is being compensated by the team. But again, we’re all human, and that element of the fan / player relationship all too often falls to the wayside.
There’s still time for him to turn it around, and the reality is that the Boston Bruins are in contention for first place in the Eastern Conference without a significant contribution from Milan Lucic (and others, for that matter.) If Lucic can find his game in time for the playoffs, then all talk of his regular season dip will dissipate, and the Bruins and their supporters will be well served.
Oh and hey, let’s not forget that the guy is still only 24 years old (!), and hopefully the best is still yet to come for him, both on and off the ice.
Follow Ian on Twitter for more hockey updates and commentary.