Goalless in his first 18 games in Calgary, a third period bench by coach Bill Peters left him frustrated, confused and “wondering if I should just hang them up.”
“It just wasn’t fun for me anymore.”
My, how things have changed.
Five games in the Flames’ playoffs and it’s Lucic who runs the club’s first five-game playoff streak since Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow turned the trick in 2006.
His unique time to establish Dillon Dube’s first goal in a 3-2 win over Dallas on Tuesday was just the latest in a fascinating series of developments concerning the 32-year-old many had set aside years earlier.
Heralded as a team leader in a team riding a big wave of emotion after three straight wins, no one is having fun these days.
When asked about the resurrection of his game, his passion and his career, the Flames’ lone Stanley Cup winner will tell you the catalyst for change was simple.
“What has changed is the change of coach,” said Lucic, who couldn’t get a clear answer from Peters on his position.
“I just felt like I didn’t have a lot of part in the team. Then probably the guy who knows me more than anyone in the league ends up being the head coach and puts me in a role where I can be successful. This is what finally changed. Not just him, I also give my teammates a lot of credit. They really stayed with me and made me join the group.
Now they’re buying what old Looooch (as fans sang every time he hit the puck) is selling.
This is exactly what the Flames were hoping for when they dumped James Neal in an expensive contract swap last summer, anticipating that they could somehow capitalize on the emotional engagement that has vanished from Lucic to Edmonton after so much success in Boston.
The man who deserves the most credit for reinvigorating Lucic is indeed interim coach Geoff Ward, who was a longtime Boston assistant with the Vancouver native.
“When he came to Calgary he said he wanted to go back to his way of playing,” said Ward, whose penchant for empowering and listening to players is totally opposed to the approach taken by Peters before his horrific departure on November 29.
“Most of his work has done him honor. At the break, we start to see him get back into shape. He had scored a few points just before the pandemic broke and appeared to be on the rise. My experience with him is when he’s booming he’s usually able to keep going. I think he wore this throughout the break, in the first few games here.
Points are a bonus for a man anchoring a third-row demolition squad alongside Dillon Dube and NHL playoff leader Sam Bennett. Starting in Tuesday’s three periods to set an early physical tone and build energy, the twice-scoring line against Dallas is now centered by Lucic, whose 62% efficiency in the faceoff point is a shock given the short time he had made for. years.
Yet another wrinkle in the bruised winger’s game.
Everything he touched this summer turned to gold, providing leadership and mentorship to a young team that feeds off his knowledge, experience and playoff adrenaline.
No one north of Red Deer could have predicted it would go so well with him in a Flames uniform, especially early on when Neal had his scoring frenzy early on.
The narrative of the two has since changed dramatically.
“I think he’s confident in the way he’s playing now,” said Ward, who uses Lucic for more than 15 minutes a night now, which includes some wild starts in the offensive zone that he hasn’t seen since. years.
“I think he likes the players he plays with, and they compliment him a lot. Now we are starting to see a guy who no longer has trust issues. It’s just about going out and playing the game. He enjoys this time of year more than any other time. He’s always been like that as a player. He loves great moments.
“Right now he’s riding a wave and we hope that will continue.
His dramatic turnaround mirrors that of his team, as no one is more representative of the team’s new focus on defense and physicality than Lucic.
Everyone bought into the team concept first required this time of year, helping the squad overcome their playoff bump against Winnipeg in impressive ways.
“I think Wardo has done a really good job of making everyone feel important and take their role,” said Lucic, who has scored eight goals and 20 points this season, but now sits behind six points in Sean Monahan playoffs.
“I have to say that since December, as a team, we’ve had a lot of fun being together, whether it’s during practices or games, on the ice or on the road. It’s a really tight group and personally I can’t wait to see it everyday. I think that’s the biggest difference between the first two months and where we are now.
No transformation has been as dramatic or impactful as hers.