Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports
Milan Lucic wearing a Vancouver Canucks jersey? As recently as May it was unthinkable with how several of the city’s rotten apples treated the Vancouver-born forward in the wake of the Boston Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup victory.
When Lucic was on the block, though, the Canucks were interested and Lucic indicated that he’d actually had his hopes set on coming home. It’s an understandable impulse, especially in the wake of a family tragedy, which Lucic made public last weekend in a touching Sportsnet piece.
And the pull of returning home is still strong for the prototypical NHL power forward, as he made clear in a recent interview with TSN’s Frank Seravalli.
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“The Dream”

Here is Lucic’s response to Seravalli, who asked why the pull of returning home remains so strong for the young power forward, even after Lucic’s relationship with the city got frayed to the point that the legendary former Vancouver Giant said he was “done trying to defend” the city back in 2013.
The question that was asked was, ‘Would I be willing to go if the opportunity was there?’ I just said, just like any kid, your dream is to play for your hometown team. That’s obviously a dream.
“But right now, I think the situation that I’m in, being in L.A. with the Kings and the style is something that I’ve really enjoyed and I feel like it’s suited me. As of right now, I’m enjoying being a King and loving every part of it, as far as living in L.A. and the Staples Center and all of that stuff. It’s definitely something that I’ve grown to really like over the last three months.
“As far as that hometown stuff, that’s something that I’m not really thinking about or worrying about right now.
“As of right now, I’m just enjoying being a King. Hopefully it can last more than one year.”
There’s little doubt that Lucic will have that opportunity this summer if he’s interested. 
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Flush in cap space

If the Canucks were willing to give up assets for the 27-year-old heavyweight this past June, you know they’ll be willing to invest some cap space. 
That’s especially true because with Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata set to come off of the books, the club projects to have anywhere from $15 to $20 million (depending on what occurs with the upper limit of the salary cap) in space under the upper limit to spend.
Where this gets a bit tricky from a Canucks perspective is that while Lucic remains a unique and very good power winger, if we’re discussing the possibility of committing big money and term to the proud son of East Vancouver, well, there are some clear red flags. 

Diminishing Returns

Let’s start with the 5-on-5 point scoring rate that Lucic has produced over the past six years (including what he’s done with the Los Angeles Kings so far this season). The trend isn’t tough to spot…
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In terms of Lucic’s two-way game – as distilled by team-relative Corsi For percentage – we can see something similar going on:
I might caption the above graph a bit further. Over the past four years, Lucic has managed a ridiculously good impact on his teams’ ability to generate shot attempts. He’s top-30 in the entire league since 2012 in team relative Corsi For rate. Most of the decline in his team-relative possession numbers is on the defensive side of the puck.
Now some of what we’re seeing with Lucic’s two-way results can be attributed to his having played on a team with the best defensive forward in hockey, Patrice Bergeron while rarely playing on Bergeron’s line. That’s a major qualifier, but the overall trend is still hard to ignore.
I did up one final graph, which captures a big part of the reason why Lucic remains a decent bet. This is Lucic’s even-strength goal scoring and shots on goal rate over the past six years:
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Those rates have remained relatively stable even as Lucic has left his prime years, and I’d suggest to you that if the tough-as-nails left winger remains healthy and is able to play with a playmaking centre, he’s a pretty good bet to continue to generate goals at a top-line rate into his early 30s. 

Conclusion

In terms of player evaluation, I think the world of Lucic. He can lose his temper from time to time, but mostly, he’s the sort of player that any hockey fan is pumped to watch play for their team. He’s immovable in the slot, he consistently helps his team generate offense and he still scores goals at a very good clip. 
Though Lucic is beginning to incur some diminishing results on the defensive side of the puck as he gets into his late-20s and hasn’t scored at a top-line rate at even strength since the 2013-14 season, he remains a credible top-of-the-lineup quality contributor and I’d expect that to continue for a few seasons hence. Even if Lucic didn’t possess more physical value than just about any forward in hockey, which of course he does, he’d be a good addition for any team.
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Though Lucic is a badass, I think the Canucks should proceed with caution should they opt to chase him in free agency (which I’d think they totally will). Players who make their name with physical play can fall off of a cliff in a hurry, and you’d hate to see Lucic’s homecoming turn sour because of an outsized ticket.
All of which is to say that if the Canucks do chase Lucic on the open market, it may be wise to go big on salary – a raise over the $6 million Lucic has made over the past few years shouldn’t be out of the question – and be careful with term. 
We’ve already seen Jim Benning be pretty conservative when handing out term to unrestricted free agents (less so in his extensions). Though Lucic is a relatively young man when compared with Vrbata or Ryan Miller, a similar approach might serve the Canucks well were they to find themselves in a hypothetical situation in which signing Lucic to a contract becomes a reality. 
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Data in this piece courtesy stats.hockeyanalysis.com.
– with h/t to todaysslapshot.com