One day’s delay is other day’s lack of progress — Stuart Bowen
As far back as January of this year and as recently as less than 45 days ago, Milan Lucic made it abundantly clear that he wanted to re-sign with the Los Angeles Kings. Now, with just 25 days until free agency, the radio silence coming from both sides is deafening.
Will the 6’3″, 233-pound power forward sign a new contract with the Kings, or will the lure of free agency be too powerful to resist?
Lucic’s Public Statements
With the codicil that during interviews, many players reflexively practice some degree of dissembling in order to hedge their bets, Lucic nevertheless made strong statements about his desire to remain in Los Angeles. When asked by Pierre LeBrun where he’d like to end up next season, he said:
I hope it’s here, just because of how great everything has gone and [how] good the transition has gone. I truly, truly deep down in my heart hope that I do get to remain a King after this season.
There’s not a shred of ambiguity in that quote, leading one to believe that despite earlier reports regarding a desire to play for the Vancouver Canucks, Lucic was excited to remain in Los Angeles.
Fast forward to April. After a successful regular season which saw the Kings amass 102 points followed by a disappointing first round loss to the San Jose Sharks, Lucic was asked again about his plans for next year. As before, he appeared to be transparent regarding wanting to stay in Los Angeles:
To be honest, I really don’t have much interest in hitting the open market, or even hearing what’s out there — because in my mind, this is where I want to be. Why flirt with something when you know what you want?
Desire is one thing, pragmatism another. How close were the two sides from a dollars-and-cents perspective?
Seemingly, not very far off:
I think (we’re) in the same area code I would say. Just a little bit more work to do to bridge the gap here and like I said, it’s something that I definitely want moving forward, which I think is definitely important and I think it’s something they want too so hopefully we can make it work out here.
In short, Lucic played very well in his first season with the Kings, who spent significance resources to acquire him one year ago. He wants to be in Los Angeles, the Kings certainly want him back and as of April 24th, they were in “the same area code” of a deal.
What’s the delay?
Show Me the Money
In the end, no matter what either side says, it’s almost always about the money.
In September of 2012, Lucic signed a three-year contract extension that carried an AAV of $6 million, locking him up through the 2015-16 season. Having just scored 26 goals and 62 points during the previous campaign and with the Bruins in the middle of their championship window — they won the Cup in 2011 and would reach the finals again in 2013 — his unique combination of strength, skill and nastiness earned him a big payday.
Has his production dropped off since then? Other than a down year in 2014-15 (44 points), Lucic’s play has remained at a consistently high level. He notched 55 points for a defense-first Kings club last season, with a plus/minus of plus-26 and a 54.9% Corsi For — the third best possession season of his career. Meanwhile, the NHL salary cap has increased (albeit modestly) from $70.2 million in 2012-13 to around $74 million this year.
To summarize: consistency and league-wide inflation would argue for at least a modestly higher payday for Lucic, something the Kings can ill-afford with their tight cap situation. Of course, they could theoretically go the Marian Gaborik route and ink him to a 5-7 year deal at a reduced cap hit. Then again, there’s the Marian Gaborik route to worry about, as he (as well as five others, including the grizzled Dustin Brown) are already locked in until at least the 2020-21 season. Flexibility, thy name is not the Los Angeles Kings.
For now, radio silence is the tune coming out of both sides. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as both camps are undoubtedly trading proposals and free agency is still nearly a month away.
On the other hand, there are worrisome rumblings out there if you’re a Kings fan.
Everyone wants to find the next Milan Lucic. He's the current Milan Lucic. Wouldn't be shocked if he got $7 million https://t.co/hwyJaKSwEb
— Steve “Dangle” Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) June 4, 2016
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.