The Boston Bruins are facing an important offseason after missing the postseason.
They have a new general manager in Don Sweeney chosen by old teammate and team president Cam Neely. However, that is just step one in a long summer on Causeway Street.
The focus now shifts to the makeup of their roster. The Bruins find themselves in a tough spot with the salary cap. Boston has over $63 million invested in 16 players next season, but still need some depth up front, on defense, and a reliable backup for goaltender Tuukka Rask.
Oh, and Dougie Hamilton needs a new contract. Sweeney knows it will not be easy, but is the one pegged with finding a way to make things work.
One of the bigger decisions that will have to be made is what the Bruins will do with Milan Lucic.
The soon-to-be 27-year-old will count $6 million against Boston’s cap next season in the final year of his current contract. His season was a disappointing one scoring 18 goals and 44 points on the top line with David Krejci, his worst numbers in a full season since 2009-10.
The physical nature of Lucic’s game was non-existant. In fact, you may have had better luck finding the Vancouver native on the back of a milk carton than on the ice at times. His six-foot-three-inch frame was not utilized to its fullest potential, slowly hulking around the ice on many nights.
He had offseason wrist surgery and came back earlier than expected. However, it was not a valid excuse for his season-long struggles.
Lucic suggested his down year may have been more mental than anything else.
“At the start [of this season] I was overly conscious about [playing with an edge] because there was a lot being said about me with how last year ended. I need to find that physicality, that presence and that force that I’m known to bring. When I talk about healing mentally, I think that’s the biggest area where I need it.”
To summarize, he was not physical and edgy enough on the ice this season because he was afraid of public perception.
As the fifth-highest paid player on the team, Lucic should be mentally tougher than that. A player that literally fought his way on the Bruins roster as a 19-year-old engaged in fisticuffs just three times this season, lacking the mean streak he is known to possess.
Instead, Boston fans were relegated to seeing too many ill-timed penalties and poor discipline, especially against the Montreal Canadiens. Exhibit A was this nonsense in the first meeting between the two Original Six rivals back in October.
Mental toughness is a growing concern regarding Boston’s number 17. For a player that is making fairly big money, Lucic has a very short fuse.
I personally think Lucic's contract is bad. He's one of the tougher players to gauge value-wise though.
— DJ Bean (@DJ_Bean) February 21, 2015
Speaking of money, the Bruins are in tough against the salary cap. Sweeney spoke about it in his introductory press conference.
“I referenced flexibility as an issue that we need to get back out in front of. There’s a difference between cap compliance and cap management…everyone in the league has to deal with cap compliance, but the teams that are in position to have some flexibility to make some changes…the opportunity to make trades exist when…you have a trading partner.”
Trading away Lucic will give Sweeney an additional $6 million of cap flexibility but finding a willing partner to take on that contract will be a challenge. The power forward is due for a new deal next season and could be in line for a pay raise even though his performance may not warrant one.
If Lucic remains on the roster in October, Sweeney and the Bruins brass can get a look at his performance and reevaluate where they stand come the trade deadline.
Sweeney vs. Neely?
Many have speculated Sweeney was hired by Neely as merely a “yes-man” or his “puppet”. Make no mistake, Sweeney is a Harvard graduate and should have autonomy to make decisions that are best for the club. Neely may have other ideas, especially with regards to Lucic. When he was drafted 50th overall in 2006, Lucic was thought of as the next Neely as the two played an almost similar style of game.
If there is a potential power struggle between the two former teammates, what to do about Lucic may be the first major flash point. Neely may want to keep him around while Sweeney could have other ideas.
The debate on Milan Lucic will rage on as the offseason fireworks will soon commence.
Should he stay or should he go? Make your voice heard below or reach out to me on Twitter with your comments here.
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW