[HUGE IF TRUE breaks down the plausibility of the week's biggest rumor.]
When the Los Angeles Kings traded for Milan Lucic last summer, there was already an expectation that it might be little more than a season-long rental.
The Kings are no strangers to being tight against the cap, and could in fact, exceed the cap by the end of this season if the numbers at General Fanager hold up. Right now, they could be looking at an overage in the $700,000 range.
The idea here is that Lucic only fits on the Kings' roster right now because Boston retained half his salary, and with him about to hit UFA status for the first time in his career, he's likely to want to cash in big, and on a long-term deal.
The problem: The Kings already have about $62.7 million committed to 17 players for next season — when or if Vinny Lecavalier retires (and how funny would it be if he didn't) — and you have to think Lucic wants something north of $7 million. That's just me speculating, but given the season he's having, why wouldn't he command that on the open market? The Kings don't have $7 million to spend if the cap is going up either minimally or not at all, especially in the long term.
While they're only losing a handful of guys to free agency this summer, they need to work out long-term extensions for Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson next summer, and committing long-term to an age-28 Lucic might not be in their plans.
But also, it apparently might be.
Who's Going Where?
Last week, Pierre LeBrun got the ball rolling on all this talk by saying that the team and player are kicking numbers back and forth, because Lucic wants to stay and he's clearly demonstrated his value to Los Angeles. LeBrun further believes that this isn't likely to get done any time soon because, a) that's not how LA operates, and b) the cap constraints make things tough.
However, Bob McKenzie said that he thinks something might get done before July 1 regardless, telling TSN 1040 in Vancouver:
“I’m not sure how exactly they’ll get it done, but I think they will get it done. I think they’ll find a way and I think that’s his primary focus right now, is to try and return to the L.A. Kings. I think the Kings have interest in that happening."
There are, of course, backup destinations to discuss.
You'll note McKenzie gave that quote to a Vancouver radio station, because Lucic is from Vancouver and the Canucks would covet a player with his particular skillset more than they might gold. Jim Benning saw Lucic plenty when they were both with Boston, so there's a relationship there, and the Canucks are going to have money to throw around like crazy. There are some big-money guys coming off the books, but you can bet Benning would move heaven and earth to get Lucic. In 30 Thoughts this week, Elliotte Friedman said, “we've all assumed the Vancouver Canucks will make a major run” if nothing happens before July 1 with the Kings. It makes so much sense that it feels like a fait accompli to see Lucic head home, but then again you never know.
Especially because Friedman also notes that Nick Kypreos believes Edmonton could be a major player for Lucic as well, because of the relationship Lucic has with Peter Chiarelli as well. Obviously they go way back, and given all the talk in Edmonton these days about compete level and so on, adding Lucic helps to address that issue and gives them a proven veteran winger who can score and do all the other good stuff teams generally like. (Of course, Kypreos has been trying to deal Lucic to Edmonton for a while now, so you never know. It feels a bit like connecting dots that shouldn't have a line drawn between them.)
I don't see Lucic going to the Oilers.
In part because of the connecting-dots issue with Edmonton vis a vis a past relationship. In part because they're soon going to have spend a ridiculous amount of money to re-sign guys like oh I don't know Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and Anton Lander and Darnell Nurse and whichever player they get in the top-3 (or, let's be honest, top-1) this year. And in part because Lucic is already 28 and you generally don't want to pay a ton of money for declining scorers.
But the Kings and Canucks? Absolutely that makes sense. If McKenzie and LeBrun say the former is the team he's most likely to sign with, that's as good as gold for me. You can just about put it in the bank. I think the Kings would want to do it because their window is only open as long as Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter are elite, and while the ability to develop young players into their system has worked so far, one wonders whether it will work forever. No one is crying in Washington that the Capitals don't have the deepest prospect pool in the league, because they are going to be competitive for exactly as long as Alex Ovechkin can score 50 like clockwork.
The same idea is true in Los Angeles. At some point all those late-20s-and-early-30s stars they have age out of usefulness. Kopitar is 28, Lucic 27, Carter 31, Quick 30, Doughty and Muzzin 26 and 27, respectively. That's a window that closes at some point during Lucic's upcoming contract, and it probably closes pretty damn hard. As such, why not go all in and worry about the back end later?
And as for the Vancouver thing, well, like Friedman says, we all just expect it's going to happen if LA doesn't. How could it not, really? Other than the Canucks are bad and have no chance at competing any time soon, and yeah maybe you want to go home but also how much money do they have to pay you to miss the playoffs for the next few years? You'd have to think that matters to a guy like Lucic, who missed the playoffs last year and almost certainly wasn't too happy about it. He'd be guaranteed to do a lot more of that on a new deal with the Canucks, and maybe no amount of home cookin' feels good for him as a result.
But given everything we know right now, it does seem LA is the odds-on favorite here. Vancouver is something of a fallback position at best.
This Is So Huge, If True: Is It True?
On a B.S. detector scale of 1-5, with one being the most reasonable and 5 being the least:
The idea of a player like Lucic hitting the open market is an enticing one for any club looking to add a scoring winger, sure, but valuable guys like him usually don't hit the open market at all. Part of the reason he might have seemed like a rental last summer was the fact that he was coming off a down year. But given how he's reinvigorated his career, to some extent, playing on a good team once again, there'd be little reason for Los Angeles to just let him walk.
Consequently, the idea of Lucic hitting the open market gets:
As McKenzie said, it could happen if the two sides can't come to an agreement on money versus term and so on, but it seems both are pretty committed to trying to find a way to make it work. A 30 percent chance he goes UFA on July 1 is still a decent-sized one, and one that likely makes Lucic happy in one way or another, but basically, why wouldn't he stay with the Kings if they want him?
(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)
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