Back in November of 2019, Milan Lucic admitted that he seriously debated hanging up his skates for good. “I think after about six, seven weeks into the season, I remember the first time we played St. Louis here on a Hockey Night in Canada game, I got benched in the third period and nothing was said to me by anyone and I wasn’t really happy about it. And I even started questioning whether I should just hang ’em up because it just wasn’t fun for me anymore.”
Instead of giving up, he rekindled his passion for the game and is now set to become the 11th player in Flames history to lace up his skates for his 1,000th game at the pro level. (From ‘Coaching change gave Milan Lucic reason not to retire after rough start in Calgary,’ Calgary Sun, 02/19/20)
Boston and LA
Lucic was a vital component to the success of the Boston Bruins during his tenure. In 2011, he brought back a Stanley Cup to the franchise for the first time since 1972, and in 96 total playoff games with the Bruins he racked up 61 points and 155 penalty minutes. Lucic has always been loved by his teammates because his role on every team he’s played for is to stick up for them- he does so by using his big size as he clocks in at 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds. In his eight years with the Bruins, he put up 342 points in 566 regular-season games.
After an unforgettable run with the team that drafted him 50th overall in the 2006 NHL draft, the Bruins traded Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings in 2015. With the Kings, Lucic had a pretty impressive one-year stint. He played 81 regular-season games with the club as he generated 20 goals, 35 assists, and 79 penalty minutes while adding three assists in five playoff games.
Edmonton and Calgary
On July 1st, 2016, Milan Lucic signed a seven-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers worth $6 million per season. The signing was significant in nature because of the fact that it reunited Lucic with his former general manager in Boston, Peter Chiarelli, but I think for both parties the expectations were a little too high heading into the contract. Lucic claims he signed in Edmonton because of the opportunity to play with an elite star by the name of Connor McDavid.
Lucic spent three seasons with the club and during that time he played in 243 regular-season games earning 104 points. Certainly, not a bad projection for a player whose role is to protect star players and cause havoc in front of the net, but he was on a steady decline points-wise in each season he played with the Oilers. In his first season with the team, he totaled 50 points, followed by 34 points in 2017-18, and just 20 points in 2018-19.
Lucic and the Oilers made the postseason just one time during his three years in Oil Country, where he managed six points in 13 games. Edmonton was a fine fit for Lucic, but after his game slowed down with age, the Oilers felt it was time to move on as the body of work didn’t match the price tag. The Oilers would find an extremely unlikely trade partner to do business with, all while both teams would still be stuck with enormous contracts when it was all said and done.
The Flames traded a struggling James Neal to the Oilers in exchange for Lucic and a third-round pick. The news was shocking, but the Flames were desperately seeking a way to add physicality, and Neal was not working out with the Flames, as he only added seven goals in 63 games with the Flames in the 2018-19 season- not what the Flames were hoping for when they originally brought in Neal. Both players have difficult contracts to move, but for Lucic, a new perspective has allowed him to work well in the Stampede City.
A Good Fit in Calgary
In Lucic’s first season as a Flame, he added eight goals and 12 assists which was one more point that Neal added in his one season in Calgary, and this year Lucic has seven goals and nine assists through 41 games, which is five more goals than Taylor Hall has this year. He credits a lot of his newfound success to the trade from Alberta cities.
“Yea I think a fresh start and a change of scenery was probably necessary for me to get going again and I think it really started to happen when Wardo (Geoff Ward) took over as head coach last season and I started having fun again and started smiling more and enjoying coming to the rink and that type of stuff. That’s one of the things that you try not to lose perspective of is how lucky we are and how fortunate we are to live our dreams and play in the NHL and you don’t wanna lose that little kid inside of you. It’s been fun ever since I’ve been here (Calgary) and I wanna keep it going.”
Some still try to make it a case about Lucic vs Neal, but truthfully, Lucic is the true winner here. He found a role in Calgary where putting up points isn’t necessarily the main focus. The request for Lucic is that he continues to bring a positive attitude to the rink and be a role model for his younger teammates that have yet to hoist a Stanley Cup. The big man possesses a high amount of knowledge for hockey, and I believe his leadership, accountability, and ability to still be effective by being aggressive and in position is why he has played 999 games in the NHL – game 1,000 is one he says he’s been preparing for.
“Yea definitely, when you know when it’s in reach within a season you kind of know how many games you need to play to reach the mark and the milestone and you definitely circle it on your calendar when it’s coming up. Yeah, pretty cool, pretty special I mean it’s a lot of hockey games when you really think about it. Just gonna enjoy the day and take it as a regular game day and most of all try to make it a memorable one by winning it, so I think if all those things happen, it’ll be one to remember.” Lucic faces his two former teammates TJ Brodie and David Rittich on Tuesday for game No. 1,000 versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.