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Can Milan Lucic find the right fit in NHL free agency?

As the 2015-16 season ended for Milan Lucic it seemed highly unlikely he would leave the Los Angeles Kings for unrestricted free agency.

His rugged style fit LA perfectly. He became a loud leadership voice in the locker room. His family liked the lifestyle and the anonymity of playing in a big market, but not having to deal with media distractions. He was on the same coast as his native Vancouver.

Lastly – it was close to Disneyland, which was a major positive for his kids as he often noted.

“To be honest I really don’t have much interest into hitting the open market or hearing what’s out there because in my mind this is where I want to be,” Lucic said in late April after the San Jose Sharks eliminated LA in the first-round of the playoffs. “Why flirt with something when you know what you want? That’s the case for me moving forward.”

Even a few weeks ago it appeared unlikely that the 28-year-old Lucic would hit the open market. But negotiations ended last week after the Kings and Lucic reportedly met one last time to hammer out their differences. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the issue between the two camps had to do with no-trade protection.

The decision by the salary cap strapped Kings to re-sign Trevor Lewis last weekend essentially closed the door on a possibility that Lucic could return, which opened up a host of possibilities for the big winger. 

Last summer the Kings acquired Lucic from the Boston Bruins for a 2015 first-round draft pick and goaltender Martin Jones. The Bruins then flipped Jones to the San Jose Sharks where he cemented himself as the team’s starting netminder. Last season the hulking Lucic scored 20 goals, notched 55 points and was a plus-26. His score and venue adjusted 5-on-5 CF% was 59.79. His score and venue adjusted 5-on-5 CF% Rel was a plus-4.92.

The 6-foot-3, 233-pound Lucic has often noted his fondness for the West Coast, but his ‘win-now’ options there are few and far between. 

What would it take to sign Lucic? He’s coming off a three-year $18 million contract and that would at very least be a starting point.

Several teams can give it to him, but location, team makeup along with the dollars has to all come together to make sense. The Kings were the best spot for him, but with them out of the sweepstakes all bets are off.

Edmonton Oilers: Lucic will reportedly visit this team Tuesday. The Oilers can offer him the prospect of playing with Connor McDavid and there’s also familiarity between Lucic and general manager Peter Chiarelli who was Lucic’s boss with the Bruins. But Edmonton hasn’t made the playoffs since 2005-06 and finished with the second-worst record in the NHL last season. Even if they improve they’re still two or three years away from contending for a Stanley Cup. Also, the Oilers have a bevy of talented left wingers who are younger than Lucic and play more of a speed game. Would bringing in Lucic make sense for them? 

Vancouver Canucks: Lucic also reportedly met with the Canucks on Monday. Vancouver finished last season with the third-worst record in the NHL and doesn't have a lot as far as future assets in the hope that the team is close to contending. Both the Oilers and Canucks have salary cap space and the right type of location for him, but they both can’t give the ‘win now’ assurances to Lucic that he likely desires at this stage of his career. 

Boston Bruins: His former team has indicated a willingness to look into re-acquiring Lucic. But Boston hasn’t made the postseason the last two years and is in the midst of a rebuild. Lucic left the Bruins on good terms and has always held a fondness for that market.

Anaheim Ducks: If Lucic indeed wants to stay on the West Coast and play for a team in its ‘window of opportunity,’ the Anaheim Ducks may be the best fit. Their personnel is similar to the Kings’ and they should have enough salary space to bring in Lucic – provided they deal a few pieces like defenseman Cam Fowler. General manager Bob Murray has said he’d like to add a left wing to play with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. But the Ducks’ internal salary is often a mystery and it’s unclear if they have enough real dollars to land a prizef free agent like Lucic.

Detroit Red Wings: They have been rumored on him but they may not be competitive enough to justify him moving east at this stage of his career. He'd be a nice fit on the wing, but he wouldn't replace the center ice component the Red Wings lost when Pavel Datsyuk returned to Russia.

According to ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun, a total of 10 teams have inquired about Lucic. There’s always a chance an unexpected group could swoop in. Players with Lucic's power and scoring touch are few and far between which is why he has commanded so much attention so far in free agency. 

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