Recently, my colleague Paul Quinney wrote an article on how Milan Lucic will need to do more if he hopes to remain in the lineup for the Calgary Flames once the playoffs begin. It is a very fair and valid point, as the 33-year-old has struggled to make an impact lately, scoring just one goal and five points through his past 40 games.
In defense of the big man, it is no secret that he is not the offensive producer he once was in his heyday with the Boston Bruins. That became evident over his final two seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, and has remained true during his three seasons as a Flame. While that part of his game no longer exists, the physical side of his game is at times still there, much like it was in a game on Tuesday night versus the Nashville Predators.
With that said, that tough-to-play-against style had been lacking for Lucic as of late, resulting in many suggesting that he should be relegated to the press box. If Tuesday night’s game was any indication, however, it seems he may be ramping up his play as the postseason nears.
Lucic Man on a Mission Versus Predators
The Flames trailed three times to the Predators on Tuesday night, but managed to overcome all three deficits and eventually win 5-4 in overtime. While Lucic picked up a secondary assist on a Noah Hanifin goal early in the third period, that was far from his biggest contribution on the evening.
In the opening period, Lucic made his presence felt as he chose to drop the gloves with Mark Borowiecki. At 6-foot-2, 204 pounds, Borowiecki is known around the league for being one tough customer. You wouldn’t have known it in this fight, however, as Lucic landed several big punches through the bout, and had he not chosen to let up at the end of the scrap, he could have got in even more. (from ‘Don Brennan: Senators tough guy Mark Borowiecki ready and always willing to drop the gloves’, Ottawa Sun, 10/16/22).
That toughness alone is something this Flames team – one who has been criticized as being soft in the playoffs in previous years – could really use this spring. It wasn’t the only momentum-building play in this game from Lucic, either.
With just under three minutes remaining in the third period, Lucic caught an unsuspecting Matt Duchene with possibly the biggest hit of this NHL season. Though the play did result in a somewhat questionable two-minute minor for interference, it clearly sparked the Flames, who were soon after able to tie the game up in the dying seconds.
Looking Past Lucic’s Contract
Oftentimes it seems the criticism facing Lucic is his cap hit of $5.25 million. Given his lack of offensive production, there is no denying that he has failed to live up to his salary. That shouldn’t be seen as a negative toward him, however, as he simply took the money thrown his way back during the 2016 offseason — money that at the time was fair given his past play.
If those criticizing him are able to do their best to look past what the Flames are paying him, they may notice that he can still have an impact on games, even if it is from things that don’t show up on the scoresheet. His performance against the Predators last night was evidence of that, and if he is able to continue that into the playoffs, it will go a long way toward changing the current narrative many have placed on him.
Lucic an Important Player to Playoff Success
As mentioned previously, this Flames team has been one in the past that has struggled in the postseason, in large part due to being pushed around at that time of year. If Lucic is able to make his presence felt like he did on Tuesday night, getting pushed around will be no issue for this team in the playoffs, as opponents on the other side will have to think twice before going after a player such as Johnny Gaudreau or Elias Lindholm.
The point is any belief that Lucic can turn back into his former 30-goal scoring self is simply false hope. The game has sped up in recent years, and he has slowed down due to the physical element he has always provided. While his offensive game has diminished, he can still contribute in other ways, and he showed just that against the Predators. The hope now is that he is able to provide that on a game-to-game basis, in what many believe could be a lengthy playoff run for this Flames team.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.