Clamor on Causeway is a weekly column that will appear every Sunday night throughout the year. It will address some of the most frequently discussed topics and issues surrounding the Bruins.
On the current Bruins' roster, there is no player as polarizing for fans as Milan Lucic. The 6-foot-4 winger remains one of the most popular players on the team with fans, and his recent decision to join Tyler Seguin and Andrew Ference on Twitter is sure to add to his appeal.
It's not difficult to figure out how Lucic quickly became a fan favorite. Whether it's the center-ice destruction of noted horrible hockey player Mike Komisarek or the freight train routine that concussed Ryan Miller, Lucic does everything fans love. He is, however, prone to lengthy spells of irrelevance, plainly stupid penalties and forgetting that he, at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, is bigger and stronger than almost everyone on the ice. There is no questioning his status as one of the game's premier power forwards. There are, however, a fair amount of questions about whether or not he can become one of the game's elite players.
After putting the 2009-10 season, which saw him plagued by an ankle injury, behind him, Lucic used the last two seasons to continue his progression. His career-high 30 goals in 2010-11, followed by a 26-goal season in 2011-12, soothed most of the concern relating to his continued development and potential lasting effects of the ankle injury. As his game matures, though, certain bad habits remain for Lucic. He still floats too often away from the net and struggles to control the temper opponents can't help but bring out.
It's easy to forget that Lucic is still only 24 years old. On the other hand, the most ardent Lucic supporters just as easily explain away his occasional aloofness with words like "tough" and "presence" and "ENFORCAH." Proof of his presence isn't hard to find either, with the Buffalo Sabres spending most of the last 10 months building a team almost exclusively to stop Lucic. Meanwhile evidence of his toughness came from the very opponents he attempts to pummel, as the 2011-12 NHLPA players poll revealed that his peers consider him the toughest player in the NHL. The issue isn't that Lucic doesn't do a lot of things well, it's whether or not what his provides will worthy of the raise he'll inevitably ask for.
Ignoring the elephant in the room and assuming there is hockey next season, Lucic will be restricted free agent following the 2012-13 season. He'll make $4.25 million this season, and he'll rightfully be expecting a raise with his next contract. However, Seguin, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask are also RFAs next summer, and there are a few unrestricted free agents for Peter Chiarelli to decide on. With Tim Thomas' contract coming off the books, there will be more wiggle room, and all signs point to Lucic wanting to stay in Boston as long as possible. The value of the commitment Chiarelli is willing to offer could be the sticking point.
Aside from his 30- and 26-goal seasons in the last two years, Lucic has struggled at certain times. Ignoring his utter disappearance in the first round of the playoffs against Washington this season for a second, he wasn't particularly effective in the playoffs during a Stanley Cup run either. This is troubling because it's a player like Lucic who can thrive just as well during the playoffs when teams tighten up and space is difficult to come by.
Against Washington, the lasting visual of Lucic wasn't the hulking winger battling for space and poking a rebound home. It was Karl Alzner taunting him for whining to officials. He wasn't the only Bruin frustrated in the series with the Caps. He is, however, a first-line winger that let those frustrations diminish his performance in a series decided by one goal, which is exactly one more than he scored against Washington.
Now, the Bruins aren't the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference a season ago without Lucic, and they don't win a championship without him in 2010-11. Even with his problems, his value to the Bruins' seems to grow even when he isn't scoring. Teams in the Northeast have all attempted to add some muscle and toughness this offseason, and it smacks of gameplanning to compete with Boston. It's Lucic and the Bruins other bruisers responsible for this obsession. And, among the Bruins' muscle, Lucic is the only one capable of a 30-goal season. With all the problems of disappearing at times and short-handing his team with the occasional boneheaded play, it's interesting to see what the product would like minus Lucic.
Next summer or even some point during this season, Chiarelli will hold a press conference to discuss the new contract Lucic has signed with the Bruins. He'll talk about his toughness and his goal scoring, his character and his intangibles and he'll side-step questions about routine spats of invisibility and the other problems. He'll do that, not because he doesn't know those things are true. But because the alternative to keeping Lucic in Boston means having to play against him, and, in their zeal to compete with the Bruins, the Sabres ended up with Steve Ott and Adam Pardy. Probably smarter just to stick with Lucic.