Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Is it too late for Milan Lucic to play for the Canucks? For the Canadiens?

About Milan Lucic and his interview on TSN 1040, it started out innocently enough when he explained that he always wanted to play for his hometown Canucks, his favourite team growing up.  Somehow it's become a bit controversial, with some talk that he's 'campaigning' to return to Vancouver, where he had a lot of success as a Giant in the WHL.  I think that's overblown.  He did mention that he had one more year on his contract, and you never know how things will work out and if he'd even reach UFA status.

His interview is the kind of pabulum that is expected of professional athletes, that they say all the right things and try to not offend anyone, to flatter the audience as best can be achieved.  The kind of declarations that we found empty a few years ago when every hockey player raved about the mystique and the history and fans and the atmosphere in Montréal, but hightailed it out of town at the earliest opportunity.  The kind of talk that, reassuringly for Canadiens fans, gets backed up by ink on contracts nowadays.

So Milan did backpedal from his impulsive statements after the poutine rumble that he was done with Vancouver, etc.  Cooler heads and all that, and maybe Vancouver fans are ready to forgive and forget now that he's no longer a hated Bruin anymore.  While the Kings are a rival and there have been some heated games and back-to-backs the last few seasons, the Bruins are orders of magnitudes more despised out here.  As a King he can be more of a Rick Tocchet or Clarke Gillies rather than a Tiger Williams or Tie Domi, both in how he's perceived and how he conducts himself on the ice.

What I found more objectionable in his comments was his guffawing, chuckling statements about "running a goalie", and the broad hints and allusions to when he did that to Buffalo Sabre Ryan Miller.  We all recall how back then he claimed it was a purely accidental collision, that he'd "looked up and saw him and only had time to brace" himself, or words to that effect.  Now he's the tough guy again, the goon who's claiming his dummying of a player 80 lbs lighter than he is.

I've often thought and posted that Milan Lucic was ultimately poorly-served by being drafted by the Bruins.  While it seemed like a match made in heaven, a big burly ornery forward becoming a Big Bad Bruin, it actually fed his worst impulses and got him into trouble, especially near the end of his tenure there.  It's a little reminiscent of the situation described by Christie Blatchford when she described the appointment of Mike Duffy to the Senate as "When the man with no shame met the place with no rules..."  Another example was Theo Fleury who described that his playing in New York was ultimately not the positive change of scenery he could have had, but instead was a venue that allowed him to intensify his propensity to 'party' with more opportunities and more anonymity.

Milan and the complicit Boston media had painted him into a corner and he had to act as the biggest meanest indestructible player, he had no room to concede defeat and be gracious and sportsmanlike when required.  Cue the spearings (plural!) to the groin, the upraised middle fingers to the Nouveau Forum crowd, and the handshake line fiasco, among other shameful episodes.  Had he landed in Phoenix or Calgary, he could have built an image and a career as a tough but honest player.  And yes in Montréal, he would have been steered in the direction of John Ferguson, Sergio Momesso or Mike McPhee, a big strong tough player you don't want to rile up and tangle with, but who'll stick to hockey and the business at hand if allowed to.

I’m going to venture further and state that not only does Claude Julien not control his dressing room and his ‘energy’ players, I think he at least tacitly encourages or enables them. Stating that Brad Marchand was trying to “protect himself” from noted goon Sami Salo when he submarined him, or that he and Peter Chiarelli “hadn’t watched the tape yet” two days after the handshake line fiasco are only two examples of a coach who looks the other way on his players running wild, benefiting from the impotent NHL refereeing.

And yes, it's highly debatable that there would be any benefit to the Canadiens pursuing his services now, for all the reasons that flared up lately, the decline in production, the lack of footspeed, the indiscipline and poor focus.  If he does reach UFA status, it's worth questioning how much he'll cost and how much he'll contribute in return.  There's the whole 'distraction' angle to work into the equation.

While it's pleasant sometimes to consider what could have been, what a player Milan could have turned into in bleu-blanc-rouge, with a team where his worst, basest instincts were muted rather than fueled, we have to realize that in the present, that ship has sailed.  I can't imagine the Canadiens investing the cap dollars in such a player approaching thirty when they have all these quality youngsters in the fold who'll need contracts of their own in the near future.  And I can't for the life of me imagine Milan subjecting himself to the media storm his donning a Hab jersey and returning to the New Boston Garden would create.

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