A Bolt From the Blue – Tampa Bay Lightning Buy Out Vincent Lecavalier


Apr 14, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center

Vincent Lecavalier

(4) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. Sabres beat the Lightning 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Long Island City, NY — According to multiple reports (here, here and here), the Tampa Bay Lightning front office has announced it will buy out the remaining seven years of team captain Vincent Lecavalier’s current 11-year deal, at a total cost of approximately $32 million.

As per the stipulations of the new NHL CBA, the Lightning will not suffer a salary cap hit equivalent to the amount paid to Lecavalier each year. By buying him out, the team will save itself a cap hit of $7 million per season.

The team will spread the cost of the buyout over the next 14 years as follows: $4,761,905 in 2013-14 and 2014-15; $3,761,905 in 2015-16; and $1,761,905 in 2016-17 through 2026-27. (All payouts include signing bonuses that were guaranteed to Lecavalier based on specific language in his deal.)

Whether considering the amount of money or the number of years, those are ridiculous figures when laid out on paper.

Lecavalier isn’t the first NHL player to fall victim to the compliance buyout—if someone scheduled to make $30 million without having to pick up a hockey stick again can even be called a “victim”—and he won’t be the last.

Because of NHL GMs’ past willingness to sign players to (borderline insane) long-term contracts, the newly instituted compliance buyout is a necessary evil of doing business in the league. A prime example of one such contract is Rick DiPietro’s 15-year, $67.5 million deal, which the New York Islanders are likely to amnesty if they can’t move DiPietro for another player by the end of the next offseason.

Cue the New York Islanders’ fans nodding solemnly. Or possibly shaking their fists in silent rage. Or sending team owner Charles Wang more hate mail.

Back to Lecavalier. Now that he’s free to “pursue other opportunities”—which is how I’m sure Lightning GM Steve Yzerman phrased his We’re-Gonna-Pay-You-To-Go-Away-Now conversation with the former Tampa Bay centerman—teams around the NHL have perked up their ears at the news.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if Isles GM Garth Snow is already on the phone, dialing an 813-area code.

Lecavalier played in 39 games during the 2012-13 season, recording 10 goals and 22 assists in the process. He’s only 33 years old and averaged 17:53 minutes of ice-time per game. Those all sound like qualities that make up a solid second-line centerman, one of which the Islanders could certainly use.

Sure, Frans Nielsen is a serviceable two-way center who has performed admirably during his Isles tenure. Truth be told, though, he would best fit in as a third-line centerman on the roster, where his faceoff and defensive capabilities would shine.

If Snow can pick up Lecavalier for a modest cost, it would benefit the Isles to have him as a veteran centerman to mentor uber-prospects Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson, considered to be the second- and third-line centermen of the future.

Snow showed interest in trading for the centerman during the season when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, which makes the Lecavalier-to-Long Island theory an interesting one, albeit unlikely.

The problem today is that Lecavalier may command as much as $5 million per season on the open market, putting him way out of the Islanders’ price range. I’m not sure how credible reports of Lecavalier getting that much money are, but there’d be no way Snow would sign him at that cost.

The bottom line is that the former captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning is the most exciting player to hit free agency by-way-of-compliance-buyout to date. But because of his name, he’s likely to price himself out of the Islanders’ plans for the future of the organization.

While imagining him in blue and orange for the 2013-14 season is enticing, it’s important to stay grounded, Isles fans. “Pipe dream” might be the most accurate description for this scenario.

After all, the business of finding a starting goaltender, a top-flight right winger for John Tavares and the specter of a DiPietro buyout are all more pressing matters for the team’s front office at the moment.

Suffice it to say that if we’re having conversations like this before the Draft, it’s going to be an exciting offseason on the Island.