"You Suck." / "No, YOU Suck." Can Milan Lucic Be As Good As Cam Neely?

Hey Looch, we need less of this, and more shooting, okay? - Grant Halverson

Last Wednesday night's game in Montreal showcased some of the best and the worst about Milan Lucic; he took two boneheaded penalties, but also hit everything that wore a red jersey and made a sweet-ass pass to David Krejci for the game-winner. Is Looch the heir to the throne Cam Neely left vacant 17 years ago, or is he an overpaid, overfed stiff who's lucky to get bitchin' teammates and soft ice time? Phunwin and Cornelius Hardenbergh argue the point in our newest feature.

Back in more civilized days, this would have been called a point/counterpoint article. But with the dawn of Twitter, and rapid fire, poorly spelled, and even more poorly thought out commentary, I decided that most arguments boil down to one essential exchange:

"You suck."
"No, YOU suck."

You know what? Let's just cave to the internet's lack of civility and call that the title of this feature. Cornelius will fire back with his rebuttal at the bottom.

You Suck

Let me get this out of the way: I am a Milan Lucic fan. When I finally decided it was time to get a new jersey and take the classic #77 I'd been wearing forever out of service, that was the one I picked. And yes, I know that the Venn diagram of "Lucic jerseys" and "pink Red Sox hats" would show a pretty huge overlap. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I don't own a pink hat; I'm a Mets fan.) I love watching Lucic crash the net, I love watching him hit people, I love watching him punch opposing players, I love watching him make cameo appearances in Dropkick Murphys videos, and I generally love watching him do everything except take stupid penalties, which is, sadly, a frequent occurrence.

I am a Milan Lucic fan because I, like every single other Boston Bruins fan in existence, want the new Cam Neely. Ideally, one day John Connor will send Arnold Schwarzenegger back in time to the 1991 playoffs to stop Ulf Samuelsson. But since that seems unlikely, I want a big, brawny forward who can hurt the other team on the scoresheet and send them to the trainer's room. At first blush, Lucic seems like he could be, nay, should be that guy. He's 6'4, 220 pounds, he's already got a 30 goal season and a 26 goal season to his credit, never shies away from a fight and loves contact.

That said, and pardon me if I'm setting up strawmen, but it seems that the general consensus about Lucic is, to paraphrase Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, "I knew Cam Neely. Cam Neely was a friend of mine. And you, sir, are no Cam Neely." The question I have is: is that fair?

Let's take a look at each player's production numbers, through their age 23 season:

Cam Neely
Age Games Goals Assists Points GVT Point Shares
18 56 16 15 31 3.7 2.0
19 72 21 18 39 0.7 1.8
20 73 14 20 34 0.4 1.0
21 75 36 36 72 12.7 6.7
22 69 42 27 69 13.3 7.2
23 74 37 38 75 12.7 6.9
Total 419 166 154 320 43.5 25.6

Milan Lucic
Age Games Goals Assists Points GVT

Point Shares

19 77 8 19 27 2.1 2.1
20 72 17 25 42 8.7 4.8
21 50 9 11 20 2.1 1.7
22 79 30 32 62 15.4 8.8
23 81 26 35 61 11.9 7.5
Total 359 90 122 212 40.2 24.9

GVT is a stat I've used extensively, but if you need a refresher, check out the good folks at Hockey Prospectus. Point shares are a metric calculated by Hockey Reference to be the number of points a player contributes over the course of a season. This is analogous to win shares in baseball and as you can see, tracks GVT relatively closely, albeit not perfectly.

In terms of raw stats, Neely blows Lucic out of the water. But when you look at advanced stats, they're surprisingly evenly matched, with Lucic on an uptick relative to Neely at the same point in their careers. So what gives? Well, for openers, the NHL of the mid-to-late 80s was a significantly more high scoring league than today. For perspective's sake, in 1987-8, Neely scored 42 goals, a number that would have placed him 3rd last season. That season, he was 19th, and Mario Lemieux led the league with 70. That shows that: a. the NHL scored a lot more goals in those days, and b. Mario Lemieux was really fucking good. Patrick Roy led the NHL with a save percentage of .900, a number that's now replacement level. Context is everything.

What's more, for all the (entirely justified) flack that Lucic takes for spending too much time in the penalty box, Neely wasn't exactly innocent in this department either. Neely took 828 PIM, an average of 1.98 per game. Lucic? 525 PIM, 1.46 per game.

Apart from that, Lucic has another point in his favor: he's done a better job of staying on the ice. Apart from the foot injury that wrecked his 2009-10 season, he's been pretty healthy. Neely wasn't great at staying on the ice even before that fateful hit. (Seriously, Ulf, go put your nuts on an electrified fence during a heavy rainstorm.) Neely played in 88% of available games before his hip injury. That's the same as Lucic, but remember that in Lucic's case, lost time was confined largely to that one single injury; there is otherwise no reason to believe that he's susceptible to injury. He's played in 98% of games since that point. And since it is unlikely that he's going to sustain a career-ending, or career-shortening, injury, it's probably fair to assume that Lucic will trump Neely in terms of longevity.

Could Lucic end up being *gasp* BETTER than Neely? It's crazy to consider, but he's trending the right way. Apart from staying healthy and showing a commitment to fitness, there are two things he must do. First, there's no question that he needs to play with more self-control. That's a point Neely grasped later in his career; right around his age 24 season, his PIM totals began to reduce significantly. Lucic is in his age 24 season now and has shown absolutely no signs of doing so. Second, he needs to shoot more. Neely absolutely peppered the net with shots, averaging 2.96 per game for his career, and his propensity to shoot increased as his career went along. Lucic must be every bit as aggressive with putting shots on the net as he is on the forecheck.

One final point to drive home how good Milan Lucic really is. Go to his Hockey-Reference page and scroll down to similarity scores. Look at the most similar players to his profile through the first 6 years of his career. It's a pretty impressive list; anyone whose career start compares pretty evenly to the likes of Ted Lindsay, Dino Ciccarelli and Stan Mikita is a guy I'm more than happy to have on my team.

Maybe those pink hats are onto something.

Now Corny's going to give you some arguments that could easily be cut and pasted into an article about why the Patriots should trade Rob Gronkowski.

No, You Suck

Jesus, you let lawyers get talking and they can't help themselves. Just word after word after word like Lucic's parade to the penalty box. Blah blah blah "corsi" blah blah blah "GVT" blah blah blah "trending" blah blah blah whatEVER. Lucic might be a good player or whatever but let's look at what's really important: He brings out the stupid in every bro that ever dropped all of the money in their pocket on Narragansett tallboys at Sully's while wearing a "Who won? I blacked out!" shirt. Fuck you, guy. You and your drunk asshole friends are why my tickets are so fucking expensive. You know you could get a UFC pay-per-view for that money, right?

Let's quickly examine Phunwin's arguments, then.

1: "I own a Milan Lucic jersey" uh-huh, so you're biased. I see. Moving on...

2: "We should send Lucic back in time" Love it, let him live with his people in the paleolithic era.

3: "Is that fair?" Life isn't fair, Phunwin. Get over it.

4: "In terms of raw stats, Neely blows Lucic out of the water" Of course he does. He's Cam Fucking Neely! Hockey Hall-of-Fame honoree Cam Neely. 50 goals in 50 games Cam Neely.

5: "Apart from the foot injury that wrecked his 2009-10 season, he's been pretty healthy" Good for us, I guess.

6: "Could Lucic end up being better than Neely?" Boy, I hope so. I don't see it, though. Cam's in the hall. All Lucic got was for the entire Sabres squad to be retooled.

7: "Milan Lucic's career compares well with Stan Mikita" and Mike Comrie

8: "Maybe those pink hats are onto something." sure they might be but they're also really obnoxious and drive prices up. Tell 'em to go screw.

So, in short: who gives a shit if he's better than Neely? We should trade him for the betterment of our city. It's our civic duty to reduce dudebros. Do it for America.

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