The grainy, Zapruder-style cell phone video of Milan Lucic stalking through the Edmonton International Airport arrived on Twitter right on schedule. It might even have been shot by the same guy who caught general manager Peter Chiarelli at a hotel breakfast bar a couple days before his hiring last summer.
It was like that old Sasquatch film, with big Lucic loping through the crowded concourse, past a vending machine and the iStore, dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt. He glanced back once. That WAS him, wasn’t it…?
“Ya, they caught us outside the rink in Vancouver yesterday too,” chuckled Lucic’s agent Gerry Johannson, resigned to the reality that his client stands absolutely zero chance of visiting a Canadian city and not being recognized within the first few minutes.
Lucic is the Steven Stamkos of the West this week, as focused upon as a possible July 1 unrestricted free agent signing in Edmonton and Vancouver as Stamkos is in Toronto, Buffalo and Detroit. Johannson says there are two more (undisclosed) stops left on the tour, and fully six more teams that will be spoken to over the phone.
“Pretty much every team that has expressed interest we’re speaking with,” he said. “Some just aren’t practical to travel to.”
Ah, there’s that word. Practical.
Lucic’s world is the one we all dream of: making a decision on which of 10 employers will get the right to pay you a seven-figure salary that should start with a seven. But what about the Canucks and Oilers? Should they even be spending a hotel room on Lucic, who just turned 28 and will want a minimum five-year term, and likely get more?
First Vancouver, Lucic’s hometown:
Of course the Canucks should be interested. They absolutely lack for Top 6 forwards — more pointedly, Top 3 forwards, as the Sedins’ game declines — and here is one they could lock up on the left wing. At 6-foot-3, 233 pounds, his size is sorely needed among Vancouver’s skill forwards, and if the Canucks aren’t going to do the full-on rebuild then this is the kind of acquisition that is absolutely imperative.
Vancouver got bigger in acquiring Erik Gudbranson on defence, though one could counter that Gudbranson and Lucic don’t do anything for Vancouver’s team speed — a serious consideration in the aftermath of Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup championship. But yes, Lucic makes sense in Vancouver for me — absolutely.
In Edmonton the Top 6 is younger and skates just fine, despite being in clear need of further roster development to turn those qualities into actual on-ice success. Should Lucic sign as an Oiler, then one or two of three $6 million forwards — LW Taylor Hall, C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and RW Jordan Eberle — would have to go in Chiarelli’s quest for defencemen.
(UFA defenceman Jason Demers was also reported to be in Edmonton on a free agent visit Tuesday.)
What the trade market is telling Chiarelli is that those three forwards are less coveted outside the 780 area code than inside. For instance, at the draft Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t sweeten a Mathew Dumba for Nugent-Hopkins trade, and Chiarelli couldn’t pull the trigger at that value.
So perhaps the alternative is to change those players’ value on your own team. Add Lucic, and it becomes clear that someone has to move. If the reality of the market is that it takes Hall to get the defenceman Chiarelli wants, perhaps that becomes easier to stomach with Lucic as his first-line left winger.
We would predict there are potential trades that exist for Hall, the most valuable of the three, that would on their own leave a big hole in the Oilers front lines. With Lucic at left wing however, do they become more palatable?
Well, Maroon is like Lucic-light. And if Hall were to be moved you’d still have the beefy Maroon on the second line — two big bodies with good hands, who both get the kind of centreman that can maximize their potential.
Lucic may find his fit elsewhere, in a Calgary, or Denver, or wherever the tour stops continue. And he may not be too worried about who his centreman is, if at 28 Lucic plans to sign a seven-year deal and skate away into the sunset.
But if you’re a right-now team, and you’re not too worried about Lucic’s foot speed four or five years down the road — it’s fine now, but who knows? — he’ll come cheaper than Stamkos.
And in the right situation, he could turn out to be just as valuable.