So Milan Lucic had an opportunity today, with the team and media available on locker cleanout day, to make amends for his bushleague behaviour on Wednesday night when he stopped the post-game handshake line to threaten Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin. According to Aaron Ward and some lip-reading experts, he told Dale Weise "I'm going to fucking kill you next year."
After that lovely exchange, Mr. Lucic was agitated and defensive in the dressing room, saying that whatever was said should "stay on the ice", and calling Dale Weise a baby.
There followed lots of awkwardness and rationalization from the apologists within the Bruins Universe: "He plays with a lot of emotion. It was immediately after a tough loss, a Game 7. Milan is like that, he doesn't like to lose. Others have often done much worse..."
The Bruins leadership is as absent as can be on this issue. Cam Neely is nowhere to be seen or heard. Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli both hemmed and hawed, and inelegantly pretended that they weren't quite sure what happened or what was said by whom. Which makes you wonder how good the Bruins would be if they ever stumbled upon such modern-day technology like video.
Outside this cozy world of no accountability though, the denunciations were much sharper. Former NHL enforcer and on-ice official Paul Stewart wrote a scathing piece for Hockey Buzz.
So with a couple days to cool off, and getting a read of the lay of the land, you could guess that Milan Lucic would come to his senses. At least, he might have been pragmatic and given an empty apology, one he wouldn't necessarily have to mean, just to defuse the situation and get the critics off his back.
You would guess wrong. Facing the media for the last time this season, he stuck to his guns, repeating that what's said on the ice should remain there, continued to blame Dale Weise for the mess, and dissembled about a code being broken, a game "of emotion", of refusing to accept losing and failure. He clearly stated he is not sorry. He said all this with a snideness and a smirk that indicated he felt he was in the right, that he was being put upon.
And he does seem to have a bit of a superiority-persecution complex. His comments after he ran into Ryan Miller and concussed him, after he speared Alexei Emelin, and Wednesday night, taken as a whole, show a pattern of self-justification and evasion, and reveal a troubled man, who unfortunately is in an environment which doesn’t hold him accountable or rein him in, but rather fans the flames of his excesses.
In Bruinland, facts are twisted and hyped and distorted through the Don Cherry-Jack Edwardsificator, until they hold no relationship to reality. The Bruins have a long history of outright lying and refusing to accept logic or facts, even in the face of video evidence.
But the story is really much different than painted by Milan Lucic.
First of all, the contention that it happened on the ice and therefore should remain confidential is convenient for Mr. Lucic. It may hold for run-of-the-mill trash talk during play or between whistles, but it's not an absolute right. We have seen the NHL or other leagues enact fines or supplementary discipline for racial slurs or similar behaviour.
Further, this was not routine trash talk in-game, while waiting for a faceoff, but rather a spectacle that Milan Lucic created, in front of numerous cameras, during an extraordinary moment in a playoff. A different standard of behaviour is expected during the handshake line. If anything, it's Milan Lucic who 'broke the code' by confronting an opponent at such a time.
And it brings us to a second angle in which Mr. Lucic displays faulty logic. He himself drew the attention of observers, namely reporters, who asked Dale Weise about it. Dale Weise didn't bring this up, the reporters did, in reaction to the odd behaviour by Milan Lucic. If Milan Lucic had made this threat during the game, like in our prior example, before a faceoff, no one would have thought anything of it.
Thirdly, the actual words were not relayed by Dale Weise, as Milan Lucic seeks to perpetuate, but rather by TSN's panel, who quickly got on the case and worked with the roughly 75 different camera shots they had of the incident to figure out just what he said. So to continue blaming Dale Weise for outing him, while he actually outed himself, is for Mr. Lucic like the Emperor with no clothes blaming his courtiers for his state of undress. He actually chose to expose himself this way.
The idea that he's a fierce competitor who hates losing, and that he's not the first player to do something untoward in a handshake line, both miss the mark. Every hockey player is emotional and hates losing, and has to swallow hard to shake hands with his opponents. That's the exact reason why the handshake line is held as near-sacred, as proof for hockey fans that their sport is special. It's very difficult for the players to look each other in the eye and say "Good game", yet they achieve it. And simply, he failed.
And when there are failures, they're reported as the singular events that they are. We still see video of Martin Brodeur refusing to shake hands with Sean Avery. And we still get told of players who would refuse to participate, like Islanders goalie Billy Smith. So for Mr. Lucic to claim it's not that big a deal is offbase. It is a big deal, since we fans see it as a big deal.
Finally, to refuse to apologize, with the Todd Bertuzzi civil trial about to begin, is the height of folly for the Bruins forward. He's in fact boxed himself in. He'll have to watch every step he makes against Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin and the Canadiens in general in the future. He's stated his intent to 'kill' them. If he delivers anything more than a crunching body check and someone gets injured, he'll have lots to answer to. Not necessarily from the toothless NHL, but still...
How easy would it be for him to just say: “I got carried away, and I messed up big time. I’ve had some time to think about it, now that the heat of the series has died down, and I regret saying that. I called Dale and Alexei and apologized to them personally, and I want to apologize to my teammates, the Canadiens and their fans, and hockey fans in general.”
There. It'd be done. He’d be a hero again, and he'd get to enjoy his summer. Instead, he has to continue being a Big Bad Bruin. Shame.
If you keep painting yourself into that corner Milan, eventually, that bitterness will eat a hole in your stomach.
I don’t think this will end well.