Milan Lucic knows he’s been a dark horse candidate for the Canadian Olympic hockey team all along.
After all there’s no fighting in the Olympics, much less use for the art of intimidation on the world stage as in the NHL and far fewer chances to truck defensemen in the corner on an Olympic-sized ice surface.
So there are definitely fewer areas in the Olympics where Lucic’s fearsome power forward game can make as big an impact as it does in the NHL.
But the Bruins power forward has nonetheless put his name into consideration for a Team Canada roster spot all the same. It’s pretty clearly something that would mean the world to Lucic, a proud, hockey-loving Canadian from British Columbia.
“If my best [NHL efforts] are good enough for Team Canada, then that’s really an added bonus,” said Lucic. “I think any player wants to be an Olympian, and wants to represent their country in the Olympics.
“Having a good playoff last year I wanted to carry that over into this season as well, and so far it’s gone pretty well.”
An Olympic roster berth is clearly not something Lucic is focusing on three weeks into December, but it also doesn’t hurt his chances that both Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien are part of the Team Canada management/coaching staff that’s hand-picking the players this time around.
“Milan is a good skater. Once he gets going in a straight line, he gets there,” said Julien. “At the end of it, you're going to look at if he fits into your top 23 or 22 players, and go from there. We have to evaluate everybody and see what they bring. At the same time, it's not always about brining top players . . . you've heard that before. It's about bringing the best team you can, and it takes a variety of different players.
“[You] have to have a good power play, have to have good penalty killers. That's what you're looking for; you have to build the best team possible. When it's all said and done, you know there's going to be opinions of why isn't he on, why isn't that [guy] on? That's part of the process and you live with it. When you win, it's not an issue. When you lose, you have to face those question marks.”
The multi-dimensional aspect to Lucic’s game is clearly one of his saving graces: Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman seems to keenly understand an Olympic team is better served with players filling different roles rather than lumping together a group of skilled All-Stars. Witness Patrice Bergeron’s role as essentially a fourth-line center capable of playing shutdown defense, killing penalties and winning face-offs in Canada’s run to the Gold in Vancouver four years ago.
Lucic doesn’t kill penalties, but he serves a purpose as a big-bodied net front presence on the power play while still bringing needed physicality to any roster he’s on.
Lucic was a part of the orientation camp over the summer along with Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and would clearly be overjoyed to join Bergeron on the team. It would appear that Marchand’s chances for the Olympics are nil after a sluggish start out of the gate, but Lucic is still among the candidates under consideration.
“I've been doing the best I can for the team here. And I've had some personal success and we've had some team success along the way,” said Lucic. “I think that's the most important thing is having that team success. And I think when you have that team success, the individuals look a lot better. And so I'm just trying to play the right way and the way that they expect you to play here. And I've tried everything I can, I guess, to put forth the best audition for Team Canada.”
Lucic leads the Bruins with 11 goals, stands second with 24 points in 31 games for the Black and Gold, and has bounced back strongly from a disappointing shortened regular season coming out of the lockout. Lucic admitted following last season that he wasn’t in proper shape when the lockout ended in January. That explained his lacking performance: only seven goals and 27 points in 46 games. He’s already surpassed last year’s goal output this season, and needs only three more points to pass his entire total from last year.
The disappointing lockout season was before Lucic stepped up with seven goals and 19 points during Boston’s Stanley Cup run, and almost single-handedly willed the Bruins back to life in their Game 7 comeback against the Maple Leafs.
He’s been the most consistent performer on a line with David Krejci and Jarome Iginla this season, and continues to be a playmaking force when games have been on the line for Boston. One would love to see an advanced statistic based on a player’s successful one-on-one battles in the third period of close games, because Lucic’s stats would be off the charts.
Iginla won’t be on this year’s Team Canada at 36 years old, but he’s a two-time Gold Medalist that fully believes Lucic would bring plenty to the table if he makes the trip to Sochi in February.
“[Lucic] is a big guy and he’s got a lot of power, but it’s not like he doesn’t have a lot of good foot speed too. He’s not a big guy that just lumbers around. He can get it going,” said Iginla. “He’s got hockey smarts. I’ve played on the big ice numerous times. You don’t get as many corner hits, but after that the game is pretty similar [to the NHL].
“It’s not like its some huge adjustment. Sometimes that gets a little overplayed. There’s not as much corner play as far as hits go, but you still go into the corners controlling the puck, and with puck possession. As big as he is, I don’t think he gets enough credit at how quickly he can get up and down the ice.”
Lucic has definitely heard some of the criticism that he doesn’t skate well enough to play on the big Olympic ice surface, and that perhaps his game doesn’t translate to the international style. But Lucic has played for his country before on the big ice, and spent plenty of time surviving and thriving on the large sheet during his junior hockey days. So it wouldn’t appear to be an impediment to a player in Lucic that actually has good straight line skating speed once he gets moving. The first few skating strides might be a bit more deliberate, but that speaks to the importance of Lucic keeping his big dogs moving.
“For me personally, I feel like [skating] has never been an issue and I’ve always been able to keep up the pace and the speed,” said Lucic. “I’ve played in two Stanley Cup Finals, and there’s no faster pace than that. If it’s overlooked then I guess it’s an advantage for me.
“Back in 2007 Canada/Russia [Series], I played over in Russia. Also in the BCHL when I was 16, they had a couple of rinks which are college-sized and Olympic-sized. One of the division teams we played in that league 12 different times had an Olympic-sized rink. At every level I’ve played in, I’ve never had any issues. It’s different because it’s wider and as a winger you have all this room. You say ‘Oh!’ and you get a little overwhelmed at the start with all the extra room. For me it’s all about making sure I keep my speed at a high level.”
Injuries wiped out any chance at the Olympic team four years ago for Lucic, but the 25-year-old is putting his best foot forward in likely his best chance to ever play for Team Canada. Now it’s up to Yzerman and Co. to start making the tough decisions when they make their Olympic roster announcements a few weeks from now.
Something is definitely not quite right up in Winnipeg where power forward Evander Kane continues to show signs he’s unhappy with his station in NHL life. The Winnipeg power forward is essentially breaking rocks in hockey jail for the Winnipeg Jets with no chance for playoff appearances, and far out of the league spotlight toiling for a team in the Canadian hinterland.
Kane hasn’t played since Nov. 29 with a lower body injury, and was off to a seven-goal, 14-point start for the Jets in 26 games this season. More eye-opening has been his behavior off the ice: clashing with Winnipeg coach Claude Noel about the reasons behind being scratched on Nov. 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks, giving short, surly answers to the Winnipeg media and now missing the first half of December with an undisclosed injury.
It certainly doesn’t seem like model behavior from a player that refers to himself as #thenatural on Twitter. But it might also be actions Kane hopes will eventually get him moved to a more desirable NHL destination as the Jets seem understandably reluctant to trade a young 30-goal scorer that’s locked up for $5.25 million per season for four more years beyond this one.
Expect the Bruins to be a team that would be interested in Kane’s service if/when the Jets finally get tired of his act. His combination of size, strength toughness and offensive skill is exactly the kind of player Boston is always looking for on the wing, and the Bruins have the right combination of young assets/valued NHL chips to make a deal happen.
Would anybody take big issue with the Bruins dealing Brad Marchand, Jordan Caron, Malcolm Subban and a high draft pick in exchange for the unhappy Kane if push comes to shove in Winnipeg?
MacDermid pops up with Calgary
It’s been a whirlwind calendar year for former Bruins tough guy Lane MacDermid, who was forming a nice energy line with Christian Hanson and Bobby Robins for the Providence Bruins a year ago. The Bruins dealt MacDermid to the Dallas Stars as part of the Jaromir Jagr deal in April, and he was picked up by the Calgary Flames after being placed on waivers by the Stars last month.
MacDermid was up with the Flames when the Bruins breezed through Calgary earlier this week, and was happy to be on a Canadian NHL team.
"It's a good young team," said the 24-year-old, a fourth round pick of the Bruins in the 2009 NHL Draft. "I'm hoping to make a bit of an impression with the club and do my best and, hopefully, contribute."
How does he hope to do that on his third NHL team in less than 12 months?
“Just with energy," replied MacDermid. "Being good defensively. Get my checks in. Just have energy on the ice.”
MacDermid has four points and 36 PIMs in 21 NHL games for the B’s, Stars and Flames over the last three seasons, but might be in a better spot with Calgary now that Brian Burke is really putting his imprint on the team. MacDermid is definitely in the “truculent” mode, but will need more than the 4:08 of ice time he’s clocked in his one game with Calgary thus far.
I’m very curious as to how this “HBO 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic” is going to turn out over the next couple of months. Clearly the Toronto Maple Leafs have a few semi-interesting personalities on their team, but the Detroit Red Wings really aren’t known to have much in the way of colorful personalities of flamboyant individuals on their Original Six squad.
The HBO producers are going to have to dig deep for material with Detroit, and it sounds like many of the quiet Wings players are already clamming up with the cameras around for the last few weeks.
"There's a quiet time before the game and you'll get yourself ready and there's a guy in front of you while you're tying your skates," forward Stephen Weiss said. "That's kind of different. You're not kind of used to that during the course of a season.
“Those are the types of things that are part of being in this series.”
Perhaps Weiss is a little quieter than the rest of the players given his new $24.5 million contract and puny two goals in 24 games performance as a new Wings player, but you get the picture in Detroit.
Miller looking to hit the jackpot
After watching Henrik Lundqvist cash in with a contract that will pay him an average of $8.5 million with the New York Rangers until he reaches 40 years old, Ryan Miller is licking his chops as an unrestricted free agent following this season. Miller has a Vezina Trophy on his resume as well as an appearance in the conference finals, and is still young enough in goaltender years to play another five or six years at a high level. It sounds like he sees which way the wind is blowing, and will be cashing in following the season for some goalie-starved club.
Perhaps one that’s closer to the West Coast for his actress wife, whose favorite pastime just so happens to be tweeting trash talk at Milan Lucic when the Bruins and Sabres play each other.
“I thought it was actually lower than [what Lundqvist] was probably going for,” said Miller. “I anticipate with the TV deals and such, the cap is going to keep going up. Maybe it will seem like a pretty average price down the line.
“I've heard a lot of talk [about Buffalo wanting to keep him] over my time. It's about actions at this point,” added Miller, in the last year of a deal paying him $6.5 million per season. "I'm not going to sit around and let promises get thrown around. They came into a situation where some things had happened, one very recently with the Vanek trade. You have to pause for a minute and evaluate where you're at. You just can't keep shedding everything I guess. I think they're trying to figure out guys they want to hang on to, and they think they can build a core around. We'll see how it goes.”
It makes sense that Sabres President Pat Lafontaine is going to want to wait until hiring a new GM before deciding what to do with Miller. There’s an argument to be made that the Sabres should continue to build around the guy that’s been their franchise goaltender for a decade.
But there’s also got to be some thought about the difficulty a big personality and competitor like Miller will have with a rebuilding process, and whether he can be sold on that as a free agent.
“You look at all the top guys, our top guy Ryan Miller, he’s consistent all the time,” said Sabres head coach Ted Nolan. “That’s why Lundqvist gets a big contract. There are those guys, and there are the rest of us.
“You look at all the championship teams and it starts from goaltending out. ... I prefer you build around him rather than use him as a pawn to try and get something to make you better. You learn to deal with the now as a coach, and we’ve got one of the better goaltenders in the world here and I’d like to build around him myself.”
It’s been a frustrating season for Ryan Clowe, who was just cleared to play medically by the New Jersey Devils after suffering a concussion that’s limited him to six games this season. That’s not a good start for a guy that signed a four-year, $24.25 million deal with the Devils over the summer, and was starting to look a little broken down after logging a lot of hard miles in San Jose.
Clowe has been disappointed on the sidelines.
“Of course you feel that way. I know how fans think and they have that right. I don’t blame them,” said Clowe. “But why would I come back and, if something happened, I’d be out again? It just doesn’t make sense.
“That was the tough part for me. The toughest part mentally or emotionally for me is I signed here for five years and played six games. I felt so good and I felt excited. Then bang, it happens. I felt down on myself. I think I’m a pretty proud guy. I really wanted to come in here and make an impact right away. So that was tough.”
The good news is that the light is at the end of the tunnel now for Clowe, but Lou Lamoriello said the Devils will “take their time” getting Clowe back into the lineup.
*Speaking of the New Jersey Devils, they are 0-5 in shootouts. They were 1-for-17 in shootout attempts and could possibly be the only team worse than the Bruins when it comes to the shootout.
*It seemed that Claude Giroux was off the Team Canada radar when he looked injured and sluggish to start the season with the Flyers, but he’s getting back in the good graces with improved play. Steve Yzerman flew to Detroit to specifically watch Giroux play last week, and he scored a third period game-tying goal in a big Philly win over the Wings.
*Great story from earlier this week when I was on TSN 1200 Ottawa sports radio with former Bruins defenseman Jason York. He told me about some Photoshop fun he had with fellow Bruins players under that one disastrous season under head coach Dave Lewis. Apparently York found a movie poster of the film “Twins” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito as unlikely fraternal twins, and got a beauty of an idea. He replaced Arnold’s head with that of Zdeno Chara, and replaced DeVito’s head with a photo of Marc Savard’s face.
“Zee really thought it was funny, and had a good laugh about it. All of the boys thought it was pretty funny,” said a laughing York, recalling the memory from seven years ago. “Except for Marc Savard, this is. He definitely wasn’t laughing about it.”
Who can blame Savvy? Nobody wants to be Danny DeVito in that situation, right?
Remember, keep shooting pucks at the net and good things are bound to happen.