BOSTON – Milan Lucic has been saying for days, weeks and at least a year now that he wants to remain a member of the Boston Bruins.
“My plan is to hopefully be here for my whole career,” said Lucic. “But obviously that has to come from both sides meeting in the middle.”
The subject comes up more often now because the 27-year-old is entering the last year of a contract with the B’s that’s paying him $6 million per season, and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. There have been no negotiations between Lucic’s camp and the Bruins about a contract extension, and this summer would be the logical time to discuss a deal if there is one in the works for the hulking left winger.
“It’s a decision that will require some thought. He’s a player that’s really helped us over the years; he’s a signature-type player,” said Chiarelli, of Lucic. “Certainly, and I lump him in with a bunch of guys that their levels of performance weren’t up to snuff this year. So, he’s a big strong player that we rely on and he’s paid a good salary now, and if we extend him he’ll be paid a good salary going forward.
“So it’s a difficult decision because he’s a player that creates space by his size and his style of play and you’d want more production in general, from not just him but from other players. He falls in that category.”
But Lucic also knows he’s coming off a bit of a down season, himself, and was perhaps a little distracted by his own status. The 18 goals and 44 points are the lowest totals for Lucic in a full season since his injury-ravaged season in 2009-10, and the prototypical B’s power forward battled through all manner of distractions and challenges this season.
He was coming off wrist surgery in the summertime, but Lucic said he also coming off some very bruised feelings after enduring plenty of national vitriol for his behavior in last year’s playoffs. Lucic became a dastardly villain in the eyes of the national hockey media after a couple of spearing incidents, and a much-publicized threat directed at Habs grinding forward Dale Weise in the playoff handshake line.
All of that served to take some of the bite out of his game to start this season, and was painfully obvious when Lucic wasn’t the same fearless, intimidating force he’d been in year’s past.
“I came back after three months from an injury that usually takes six months to heal, but in my mind that’s not a good enough excuse,” said Lucic. “As far as a new contract goes, you can make the case I still have things to prove in order to earn that. Whether I get an extension this summer or not, I’m going to work as hard as I can to honor that last year on my contract. I need to do what I can with this time off to find my [game] again. I think one thing I learned is that I need to be more focused on myself, and what I can bring to this team rather than relying too much on other people.
“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. It was hard on me at the start. I shouldn’t have let it be as hard on me as it was. I was mad. I was angry. I was bitter that we lost…everything just piled up into one big thing, and it took me too long to get over it. Maybe that’s why I was a little too conscious of it, and maybe that’s something I have to be a little bit better at when I come back next season. I need to find that physicality, that presence and that force that I’m known to bring. I need to find that again this summer. When I talk about healing mentally, I think that’s the biggest area where I need it.”
There is little question this season was the “tamest” of Lucic’s NHL career.
His fight numbers were way down and his hitting game was erratic at best, and No. 17 wasn’t nearly the consistent, looming physical presence he’d been in year’s past. It’s one of the biggest reasons the Bruins were a bit softer in all zones this season, and easier to play against at just about every turn while missing the playoffs for the first time in Lucic’s career.
It seems funny to think that a 6-foot-3, 230-pound wrecking ball of a forward could be impacted so deeply by criticism and judgments cast by people other than the ones that sign his paycheck. But Lucic showed one thing that’s true for everybody in the NHL: underneath the pads and the helmets, there’s the heartbeat of a human being that doesn’t want to be viewed as the bad guy from all corners.