Its no secret that Boston Bruins power forward Milan Lucic plays with a style very fitting of his franchise. A big-bodied winger who isn’t afraid of mixing it up with anyone, but also possesses solid scoring ability, Lucic adds extra toughness to a team that prides itself on being “big and bad.”
However, last season saw a steep decline in overall performance for Lucic. After scoring in the season opener against the New York Rangers, he proceeded to dip into a funk that didn’t seem to see any end. After posting back-to-back 60+ point seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12, Lucic’s productivity declined to the tune of just seven goals and 20 assists. Things got so bad that he was even demoted to healthy scratch during a late-season game.
Make no mistake, when he’s on his game, you won’t find a more intimidating presence out there. When he’s off, however, its like watching a ghost on skates. The Bruins tend to follow his example in terms of physical play, so when he’s not hitting, the team rarely engages either.
Speaking with The Boston Globe, it appears Lucic has found the root of last year’s slump. It turns out that the big contract extension he was handed last offseason was adding pressure on him to perform.
“You try to live up to this expectation of what your contract is and that starts weighing on you,” Lucic said. “You start putting unnecessary pressure on yourself instead of just going out there and worrying about playing.”
For what its worth, he did show marked improvement come playoff time. Along with his 19 points in 22 games played, he was also throwing his body around with reckless abandon.
“That’s where I got back to in the playoffs. Don’t worry about goals or assists or points, just worry about doing what you can do to help your team win. The goals and assists came with it. That’s where the meetings, talking about stuff like that, just put all that stuff back in perspective.”
This is hardly a rare occurrence. Players try to excel when they’re on the cusp of a contract extension, which is what Lucic did in 2011-12. As a result, GM Peter Chiarelli threw him a big, new contract that will see him get paid $6 million a year through 2016. However, the next goal within the mind of a player is to show both upper management, as well as the rest of the world, that they indeed earned their new deal. As we saw with Lucic, this often has negative side effects, which were seen by coach Claude Julien.
“I think it’s a whole different thing with him,” Julien said. “I think last year he put pressure [on himself] because he couldn’t get himself going. There was a frustration of not being able to do what he can do so well for us. But he did that in the playoffs. At the end of the year he was the player he could be. Seeing him now, here at camp, he looks like he’s in excellent shape. He’s been working hard all summer.”
This goes back to another reason people were calling out Lucic last season. One of the very few players who decided not to find somewhere else to play during last offseason’s lockout, Lucic appeared to be a little unprepared when the season finally kicked off in January.
Now, with the first year of his new contract in the books, and his invite at Team Canada’s Olympic camp, Lucic should be both mentally and physically focused for the Bruins’ upcoming season. Complement that with the motivation of redemption from the crushing Stanley Cup Finals defeat at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, and you’ve got reason to put the entire league on notice.
Lucic is back, and he’s hungry. Approach the ice at your own risk.