Sometime this month, Milan Lucic expects to become a father. Brittany Lucic, wife of the Bruins left wing, is scheduled to deliver the couple’s first child in approximately three weeks.
Lucic’s growing family was the primary reason the 24-year-old declined to play in Europe during the lockout. Lucic said he drew interest from teams in the KHL, the DEL in Germany, and the Swiss National A League.
“If she wasn’t pregnant, it would have been a cool experience,” Lucic said Tuesday following an informal practice at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. “I probably would have went. But with this circumstance and everything that happened, it was great that I was able to be around for her.
“These last three years, when she’s been with me in Boston, she’s been my support. It was kind of nice to return the favor.”
With the lockout over and the NHL poised to open shuttered arena doors for game play on Jan. 19, Lucic faces the challenge of finding his pace. Lucic was one of six Bruins (Nathan Horton, Brad Marchand, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, and Adam McQuaid were the others) who didn’t play during the lockout. Whether Lucic and his teammates can ramp up their conditioning and reclaim their touch quickly remains to be seen.
Lucic, last listed at 220 pounds, said he is at his usual playing weight.
“For me, it was real difficult to maintain,” Lucic said. “You never really knew when to get yourself at that peak moment. But as far as conditioning goes and whether I’m in shape or not, that’s never been an issue. I’ve always had a lot of confidence in myself and my play. It’s the same thing going into this year.”
The Bruins will need Lucic and his teammates to find their pace promptly. Last year, the Bruins stumbled to a 3-7-0 start. This year, in a 48-game regular-season dash to the playoffs, a similar start might bury them.
In theory, the Bruins should be armed against an early-season stumble. Claude Julien will be entering his sixth season behind the bench. Twelve players saw time in Europe during the lockout. There is little roster turnover from last year.
On the ice, however, all those variables could be rendered irrelevant.
“It’s not going to happen unless we go out there and make it happen,” Lucic said. “You look at last season, when we decided to go out there and start making it happen, when we went on that incredible two-month run, the first 10 games, it’s almost like we expected it to happen. Just because we were the champs. This year, we aren’t the champs.”
The brawny left wing will be critical to the team’s fate. Last year, Lucic had 26 goals and 35 assists to accompany 135 penalty minutes. He has become one of the league’s elite power forwards. Others in his class include Jarome Iginla, Scott Hartnell, Ryane Clowe, and David Clarkson. Of the group, Lucic may be the toughest when the gloves come off.
It is Lucic’s unique skill set that netted him an $18 million bonanza in the final minutes of the previous collective bargaining agreement. On Sept. 15, Lucic scored a three-year extension worth $6 million annually. That night, the CBA expired. It was one of the NHL’s final pre-lockout transactions.
In retrospect, the extension — which becomes effective in 2013-14 — gave Lucic some comfort during the lockout. Regardless of the bargaining outcome, Lucic knew he’d be under contract through 2016.
Had Lucic waited until after the lockout to sign an extension, that $6 million average annual salary might not have been available.
Lucic used P.K. Subban as an example. The Montreal defenseman couldn’t agree to a deal before the lockout. Subban, a restricted free agent, is now without a contract. It remains to be seen whether he made the right choice in not signing pre-lockout.
“You’re taking a big risk if you don’t sign it,” Lucic said. “But also, with high risk, there’s also sometimes high reward, right? Let’s see what’s going to happen with him.”
Because camp will be short, it’s presumed that Julien will be seeking instant chemistry and stability. There is not enough time to juggle lines. Lucic will most likely be alongside old linemates Horton and David Krejci at the start. They will combine with Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin to give Julien a balanced 1-2 attack.
Early on, Bergeron’s line could have more jump. Bergeron and Seguin were dynamic in Switzerland.
Lucic hasn’t played since April 25, 2012. Horton’s last game was on Jan. 22, 2012, when a hit by Philadelphia’s Tom Sestito gave the right wing a season-ending concussion. Of the three, Krejci will be the closest to game-ready. In 24 games for Pardubice of the Czech Extraliga, Krejci collected 16 goals and 11 assists.
“I pride myself on not dragging anyone down,” Lucic said. “If Krech is going to push me to get my game legs back right away, that’s going to be a good thing for me. That’s what I’m going to be looking for from guys like him.
“All the guys that went there, they’re going to be the ones pushing the pace. It’s up to me to catch up as quickly as possible. In every level that I’ve had to catch up, I’ve always been able to do that. We’re back in that scenario heading into this year.”
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Nine Bruins practiced Tuesday at BU: Lucic, Marchand, Thornton, Campbell, McQuaid, Tuukka Rask, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, and Johnny Boychuk. Seidenberg (Germany) and Boychuk (Austria) were the latest additions to the group. Seidenberg played for Adler Mannheim, his former club, and was teammates with younger brother Yannic. “I haven’t been home for seven years,” said Seidenberg. “I was able to enjoy hanging out with people I hadn’t hung out with in a long time. Just getting to play for the team I used to start with was a good time.”