Flames Must Decide to Keep or Trade Milan Lucic

Milan Lucic has been the topic of conversation lately regarding the Calgary Flames. There is wonder if general manager Brad Treliving continues this amazing offseason and frees up even more cap space before next season. Lucic has been popping up in trade rumours, and as far as players left to deal and things left to do before the 2022-23 season, moving the physical forward is near the top of that short list.

Lucic was traded to the Flames by the Edmonton Oilers back in 2019 for James Neal and the Flames have surely won this trade. Despite the money Lucic makes, he has fit right into his role on the team. When it comes to the big forward, you have to overlook his cap hit and understand he has value. He may be on the fourth line and should be making less than $2 million per season right now, but the Flames salvaged the bad signing of Neal who was bought out by the Oilers and is playing in the American Hockey League (AHL).

Milan Lucic Calgary Flames
Milan Lucic, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Calgary has a decision to make and it’s to either keep Lucic for the final year of his contract or trade him before it expires. Let’s look at the two options and analyze which makes more sense.

Lucic Finishes His Contract in Calgary

The Flames have done an amazing job recovering from the bad hand they were dealt this offseason. They have been one of, if not the busiest team and have definitely made the most big moves. Before the series of events that occurred, it was evident the Flames were in cap trouble this offseason. Johnny Gaudreau and Erik Gudbranson walked in free agency while Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, Oliver Kylington, and Adam Ruzicka were or are still restricted free agents. Nikita Zadorov also needed a new contract. With limited cap space, moves had to be made.

Treliving made great moves and the most recent events resulted in Sean Monahan being traded to free up space after signing Nazem Kadri. Moving Monahan cost a first-round pick and he makes $6.375 million for one more season (from ‘Flames offseason report card: Grading the trades and moves from Calgary’s transformative summer,’ The Athletic, Aug. 22, 2022). The cost of trading Lucic will be similar, and after giving up a first-round pick, is it really worth it to dump two when the team has cap space ($2.137 million) still available?

The moves that need to be made are signing Ruzicka, which won’t cost more than $1 million, and trading one or more of the 10 defencemen in the organization on one-way contracts. Unless the Flames are planning on making a decent-sized upgrade after Lucic’s $5.25 million is off the books this offseason, then they are just wasting a high pick or prospect to move him just to move him.

Related: Flames Looking To Add a Forward While Shipping Out Defencemen

If Lucic is traded, there must be a plan in place. Phil Kessel was just taken off the board after signing with the Vegas Golden Knights, and Lucic’s place is on the fourth line. Unless they can make a move to bring in a top-six or middle-six forward to upgrade the wing, Lucic is needed in Calgary. He brings a level of physicality and a presence to each game that isn’t matched by very many in the NHL today. If it’s not essential to move him, why lose the much-needed toughness that will be useful during the regular season and most definitely in the playoffs?

Flames Trade Lucic Before Contract Expires

Now, looking at the other angle, the Flames really do have an opportunity to make their team better, but at a cost. By the looks of things in a flat cap NHL, the cost to move a player with a contract like Lucic’s, even with just one year left on it, will cost a first-round pick or something equivalent. The Flames do have their 2023 first-round pick, but next year’s draft is expected to be a very good one. With where the Flames should finish the season, a first-round pick won’t mean as much to them as it would if they were to miss playoffs or be a fringe team.

Milan Lucic Calgary Flames
Milan Lucic, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There have been two interesting potential landing spots for Lucic discussed recently, Boston and Anaheim. The Boston Bruins may be “getting the band back together” for one last run after Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci both signed one-year deals. Lucic was a part of the team’s success back when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011, but the Bruins would have to do some cap gymnastics to make it work. Realistically, the Flames would end up retaining some salary if a trade is completed between the two teams, making it less ideal to even move him.

If the Flames were to deal with the Anaheim Ducks, they have the cap space available and could be looking to replace that toughness lost in Nic Deslauriers at last season’s trade deadline. With a weaker fourth line in need of that physicality, Anaheim would welcome Lucic as well as the asset.

So, do the Flames keep or trade Lucic this offseason? It makes more sense to keep him as he’s been effective in his role. The Flames have moved around a ton of money and should save their first-round pick in case a good opportunity comes their way. And unless there is a winger the Flames have in their sights right now to upgrade the lineup after trading Lucic, he should remain in Calgary for the final year of his deal.