Calgary Flames Need to Get the Most Out of Milan Lucic

Milan Lucic struggles
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The Calgary Flames are in the midst of one of their best seasons in franchise history. Their roster is littered with players enjoying career seasons, and the team itself ranks near the top of the NHL in virtually every meaningful category. Despite some stellar individual seasons, it’s quite apparent that the Flames are more than the sum of their parts. This is especially true of the bottom half of their roster.

Milan Lucic Trade Better than Expected

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in Calgary who thought the trade for Milan Lucic would work out well. Traded from the rival Edmonton Oilers on Jul 19th, 2019, for fellow winger James Neal, both players had large contracts and little results to justify them. Even with the Oilers retaining a percentage of Lucic’s salary, Neal, not Lucic, was a much safer bet to rebound. Some two years later, Neal has been bought out, signed a league minimum deal in St. Louis, and is now playing in the AHL.

NHL free agent frenzy

Lucic, with his heavy style, is a fan favourite in Calgary. Known for defending teammates, Lucic is popular in the locker room (unlike Neal, according to multiple reports). He’s also managed to chip in the occasional goal, averaging¬† 10 goals a season (pro-rated) since coming to Calgary.

Milan Lucic Struggles Continue

As of this writing, Lucic has 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points in 75 games. He hasn’t scored since a puck went off his leg back on March 16th. That’s a span of 20 games, and he has just one goal in his last 43 outings. He hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games.¬† While the Flames don’t rely on Lucic to be a scorer, the fact he’s contributed no offense at all for such a long stretch is concerning. He has been a plus player once since March 31st. Lucic is clearly struggling by the eye-test as well. He looks slow, a step behind the play and plays often die on his stick.

Time for a Break?

His physical style and high odometer reading (1,090 regular season games) makes rest a sensible option. Players often comment on how they see the game differently from the press box, and rolling Lucic out game after game simply isn’t producing any desirable results. It’s not like the Flames don’t have options internally (Ryan Carpenter and Brett Ritchie) to step in over the last 3 games. Adam Ruzicka, in particular, has been excellent this season when in the line-up, making it hard to justify not dressing him.

A Sleeping Giant?

If managed correctly, there’s no reason to believe Lucic can’t help the Flames in a playoff series. When on his game, Lucic loves to throw his weight around and is hard to knock off the puck. He can also be useful on the power play, using his big frame to screen opposing goaltenders. He scored 8 of his 10 goals in the first 3 months of the season, showing he hasn’t entirely lost his scoring touch either. He’s also a Stanley Cup winner with 124 career playoff games on his resume, the most on the team. For reference, two-time cup winners Trevor Lewis and Blake Coleman have 87 and 53 playoff games played respectively. Lucic also leads all Flames with 199 hits this season, a crucial skill in a playoff series with tighter checking and less penalties.

Clearly, this is a special Flames team. With multiple big-name players needing new contracts, the time to make a serious run is now. In order to do so, the Flames need the best out of each individual player, and they aren’t getting that from Lucic. Now that the Flames have clinched both a playoff spot and the Pacific division title, there’s no reason to keep playing Lucic. They would be better off resting him over the last few games, while also sending a message that he needs to be better.

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