If we know anything about the history of trades in the NHL, anybody can be traded at any given moment. The Montreal Canadiens sent disgruntled goaltender Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche. The Toronto Maple Leafs were recently able to rid themselves of their regretful David Clarkson contract. And, the granddaddy of them all: The Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings.
So it should not come to a surprise to you that a player like Milan Lucic found himself on the transaction sheet this past offseason.
If you ask Lucic, the trade itself didn’t come as a surprise to the long time Boston Bruin. The Bruins fired general manager Peter Chiarelli following the Bruins’ playoff-less 2014-15 season. In came Don Sweeney, who was more than ready to take charge of the team and mix things up a bit. And with the 27-year-old’s unique skillset, accompanied by his cap and term-friendly contract, Lucic became an easy asset for Sweeney to move.
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Lucic was sent to the Los Angeles Kings for a 2015 first-round pick, goaltender Martin Jones and defenseman Colin Miller.
So, no, Lucic wasn’t shocked when he was told he was no longer a Bruin. But he was shocked at the team he was to report to.
"I wasn’t really surprised that I did get moved," Lucic said. "I definitely was surprised that I ended up in L.A., just because of the whole cap situation and stuff like that."
At the time, Lucic’s move to Los Angeles was surprising for that very reason. Lucic was carrying a $3.25 million cap hit (the Bruins retained $2.75 million of his contract in the trade). Just earlier that same day, the Kings had signed Tyler Toffoli to a two-year, $6.6 million deal. The team had Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Robyn Regehr and Andrej Sekera as unrestricted free agents. Nick Shore had to re-sign as a restricted free agent. Slava Voynov was still under contract following his domestic violence incident. The team didn’t have a backup goaltender, and they still had Mike Richards and his $5.75 million cap hit on the books.
But as the offseason grew on, the situation became more and more clear. Williams, Stoll and Sekera signed elsewhere. Regehr retired. Shore re-signed on a cheap "show me" deal. Voynov walked out on his contract and signed in the KHL. The team signed goaltender Jhonas Enroth to a $1.25 million deal. Richards had his contract terminated following an off-ice incident classified as a "material breach" of contract. And, all of a sudden, Lucic clearly fit into the Kings’ plan. And that excited him.
"When it happened, I couldn’t have been happier to end up onto a team like this and such a great city and a great, first-class organization," Lucic said. "That made things good for me to look forward to going into a situation like I came into."
The Kings were certainly equally as happy to add a player like Lucic. Heading into this season, the one-time Stanley Cup winner had 139 goals and 342 points in 556 career games. He also had 772 penalty minutes on his resume. That’s over 12 hours of time logged in the penalty box, and he earned those minutes by playing a hard-nosed game as a in-your-face-type player that isn’t afraid to drop the gloves.
It took Lucic, the long-time Boston Bruin, here poke checking former teammate Brad Marchand, a while to get used to Los Angeles.
At first, Lucic struggled with the typical changes involving a relocation.
"The most difficult part at the start was getting used to a new system, new teammates," Lucic said. "I had never played with anybody in this room prior to this season. Just getting acclimated to a new practice rink, new trainers, new coaches, all that other stuff took a little bit of time. It’s one of those things where you need a little bit of time to start feeling comfortable and start feeling like you belong in a group."
Los Angeles immediately envisioned Lucic as a top-six left wing capable of chipping in 20 goals and someone who was capable of providing that brute force every team needs. Lucic is the prototypical candidate for the position, and on a team with so many large players that play that same type north/south-type of hockey in Los Angeles, he essentially became a premier piece to Los Angeles’ puzzle.
"I think it’s been a really good transition because of the style and everything that the Kings play and I couldn’t be happier with where I am at," Lucic said. "When you talk about that power forward-type game, it’s pretty simple. Straight ahead, getting in on the forecheck, use your body, get to the net and things like that. There are a lot of guys that are willing to play like that around here."
So far this season, Lucic has potted 14 goals and 22 assists in 55 games. He’s also added 66 penalty minutes, and he’s had a one-game suspension following a retaliatory blindside punch to Arizona Coyote Kevin Connauton’s head. That’s the edge that Lucic plays with, and while a suspension is obviously not ideal, Los Angeles loves the fact that the forward plays with such a vicious bite.
His offensive touch is a gigantic bonus. Lucic regularly plays as the top-line left wing, right alongside franchise cornerstone center Anze Kopitar. But, at first, the two didn’t mesh together as well as initially anticipated. In their first six game together, Lucic had only manage to record a goal and an assist, while Kopitar only managed a single goal.
"It obviously wasn’t that great at the start of the year," Lucic said. "You know, we did start all of preseason and the first couple of games together, and we ended up being split up because it wasn’t working as well as everyone had hoped."
But when the two were reunited on the top line at the end of December, Lucic said they began to develop that chemistry. After all, Lucic has played with similar players as Kopitar in the past. His top centerman in Boston was always David Krejci, and he occasionally played with Patrice Bergeron. Since they began to regularly play with one another once again, the two have been able to turn it on offensively. In Lucic’s last 24 games, he’s recorded 15 points. In Kopitar’s last 25 games (same exact time frame as Lucic, but Lucic was suspended for that one game), Kopitar has added 31 points. In fact, of Kopitar’s 28 even-strength 5-v-5 points this year, Lucic has been on the ice for 19 of them, more than any other player on the Kings.
It took a few games, but Milan Lucic and Anze Kopitar are finally beginning to develop that chemistry Kings general manager Dean Lombardi envisioned.
"We’ve started to feel more comfortable playing together and it’s been a lot of fun to starting being able to get it going," Lucic said of Kopitar. "He’s a world-class player and I’m happy to call him my teammate and my linemate, and hopefully we can keep it going."
The next thing Lucic can hope for is a new contract. He’s set to become a free agent this offseason, and he will certainly be looking for a long-term deal. Lucic has expressed interest in staying with Los Angeles, and the Kings have reportedly reached out to Lucic and his agent for a new deal. The Kings recently signed Kopitar to a massive eight-year, $80 million deal. With a few hefty contracts already on the books, including Dustin Brown’s $5.875 per year cap hit, Jeff Carter’s $5,272,727 cap hit, Drew Doughty’s $7 million cap hit and Jonathan Quick’s $5.8 million cap hit, money will certainly be tight in Los Angeles. Lucic is making $6.5 million this year, and he has proven since the very beginning of his three-year deal he signed back in 2013 that he is worthy of that large salary, and he’d likely want, at the very least, a similar price tag.
There is no new development in Lucic’s contract situation, but none of that is of any concern to Lucic today. He knows he’s apart of a big thing in Los Angeles, and he’s focused on obtaining the ultimate goal.
"Nothing really to get excited about as far as my contract situation is going," Lucic said. "But my situation stays the same. I’m just trying to focus on winning hockey games, and I think that’s been my mindset from the start. I’ll let that personal stuff take care of itself when that time comes. The way I look at it, it’s a great opportunity here on such a great team to create something special here, and that’s what I’m focused more than anything."
Tommy Chalk writes about the NHL for FOX Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @Tommy_Chalk