Milan Lucic/Photo by S. Bradley

At 11:59 P.M. Saturday it’s widely expected that the NHL will enter into a lockout when the collective bargaining agreement expires.

But that didn’t stop the Bruins from handing out one more giant contract extension to one of their key players who they’ve decided will be part of their foundation going forward.

On the heels of re-signing Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin to lucrative new deals, the Bruins today announced a three-year extension for Milan Lucic worth a total of $18 million. As it stands now, Lucic would be the Bruins’ highest-paid forward when the new contract starts in the 2013-14 — assuming of course the upcoming season is played or the NHL comes back in time for Lucic’s contract to start.

Lucic’s goal total dropped to 26 from 30 the previous year last season. He also went through stretches of ineffectiveness with his physical play and failed to score a goal in seven games against Washington in the playoffs. But the Bruins still look at the 24-year-old as the consummate Bruins player with his combination of brute strength and solid skills.

Barring a major change in free agency rules and a lost season in 2012-13, the Bruins are scheduled to have Andrew Ference and Nathan Horton head to unrestricted free agency after this season, while Jordan Caron and Tuukka Rask are ticketed for restricted free agent status in the summer of 2013. Of course, you could also count Tim Thomas among the UFAs.