The Vancouver Canucks Aren’t Getting Milan Lucic, and That Kind of Sucks

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:16 am by J.D. Burke

The Edmonton Oilers blockbuster trade of Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson signals how certain they are of their ability to land Milan Lucic in free agency. At the very least it bolsters the validity on a multitude of reports that already suggested as much.

You don’t just trade one of the league’s best two-way wingers, on a team friendly contract, without a contingency plan. And colour me unconvinced that Benoit Pouliot is that plan. The writings on the wall. Within a few days we’ll be able to make it out in dollars and years.

That’s a tough pill to swallow for the Vancouver Canucks, who’ve stomached more than their fair share of bad news of late. Lucic was Plan A. It didn’t take a well-placed contact to figure out that much. It’s back to the drawing board on Pat Quinn Way, and we’re not even a day into free agency.

Vancouver couldn’t be happier, though. It’s as if the looming threat of an exorbitant Lucic contract was the one binding issue every Canucks fan could agree on. Whether you want a rebuild or a rebuild on the fly, you more often than not didn’t want Lucic to figure heavily in those plans.

A sentiment that makes sense on the surface. Lucic, after all, was a key member of the Boston Bruins club that defeated the Canucks in 2011 for the Stanley Cup. In Vancouver. And if that wasn’t enough, Lucic twisted the dagger in his hometown’s heart when he remarked that “I have no reason left to try and defend my city, and the people of my city” after getting into an altercation on the Granville Strip. 

Beyond that, hockey fans in this city, who I’d consider among the league’s most forward thinking, know the inherent risk involved with signing players that play the way Lucic plays. It makes intuitive sense that physical players were age poorer than their placid peers. But it was Vancouver-based blogger, and Canucks Army alumni, Cam Lawrence who ran this theory through the scientific method to prove it.

And while I wouldn’t be so brazen as to brush those concerns aside, they’re likely overstated. Lucic might’ve had disparaging remarks for the city he grew up calling home at one point, but he’s said since “I want to make it clear that regardless of what has happened, I am still — and always will be — proud to be from there [Vancouver]. It is home”. 

He’s also among the younger in this free agent class, at a very young 28-years-old — he turned 28 three weeks ago. With the Tampa Bay Lightning locking Steven Stamkos in for the next eight seasons, that makes Lucic probably the youngest member of the top tier free agents. It’s not like we’re talking about a player in their mid-thirties.

So when we are talking about Lucic and the concerns associated with investing in years five, six or even seven on his contract, it should be noted that he’ll finish his next contract no older than 34. Though his skills will diminish over that span — of this much, you can be certain — I can’t see them atrophying to the point where he’s a replacement level player.

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The thing is, there is so very far for Lucic to fall. That’s because he’s a first line talent and it’s not really up for debate. He’s very likely the best winger in this year’s free agent class.

For the Canucks, who aren’t ready to even entertain the possibility of an extended rebuild, that carries immense value. Which I think touches upon the real issue at the crux of the Lucic non-interest. Lucic is seen as a hoop the Canucks have to clear to get their re-tool into second-gear. If they can’t secure Lucic, they’re just one step closer to carrying out the rebuild this fan base is so desperately clamouring for.

That’s just not the case, though. The Canucks have a Plan B and he’s turning 31 this summer. If the Canucks can’t secure Lucic, that puts Loui Eriksson right in their crosshairs. And should they fall short on Eriksson, they’re liable to dig even deeper into the free agent market until they find their fix.

Lucic is likely the Canucks best opportunity to reap short-term bang for their buck and I’d like to think given his age that he has a considerably better chance of contributing to the long-term health of this organization than some of the alternatives. He’s also the exact type of player the Sedin twins need at this stage of their career. Former Canucks Army Managing Editor Rhys Jessop had this to say on the fit…

In all seriousness though, Milan Lucic might actually be the perfect aging-Sedins linemate. While the Twins’ shot attempt metrics are still exceptional and lead to an elite defensive impact, the decline of Daniel’s scoring ability in particular is hampering their ability to generate goals at even strength.

Lucic has demonstrated an ability to be a force in front of the net when he’s engaged, and has always carried a high individual shooting percentage. Daniel and Henrik at this point need a guy who can turn shots into goals since getting shots isn’t a problem. Alex Burrows hasn’t quite been that guy for the past two seasons. Daniel isn’t that guy anymore. Radim Vrbata has never been that guy at even strength. Milan Lucic is 9th in the NHL in Even Strength shooting percentage since 2010 at 13.8%, and 2nd among players with over 5,000 minutes of ES TOI.

You can not like Milan Lucic the person; similarly, you’re well within your right to fear Milan Lucic the albatross on the Canucks necks in years six or seven of any presumptive deal. But there’s no denying that Milan Lucic is a player the Canucks very definitely need to execute their plans for next season — whether that plan is sensible or otherwise. And losing out on Lucic might mean a similar investment in a lesser product. That’s the real travesty.