Tampa hockey fans were thrown for a loop on Thursday as the Tampa Bay Lightning announced they would be using one of their top cap compliance buyouts on their Captain, Vincent Lecavalier. Even though this will be an emotional day for the city of Tampa, it’s hard to blame the Lightning for dumping such a cumbersome contract. The fact that Lecavalier’s contract still has seven years remaining and carries a cap hit of more than $7 million per season should have made this an easy decision for Lightning management. By using one of their buyouts the team will have to pay him $32 million of that contract over the upcoming years, but he will no longer count against their salary cap.
Another reason why the Lightning decided to pull the trigger on this shocking move had to do with Lecavalier’s age and fears about him possibly retiring in the near future. Under the terms of the new CBA, there are penalties for players who retire early with front-loaded deals, like Lecavalier had with the Tampa Bay Lightning. If the team had decided to hold on to him only to see him retire 2-3 years later, the Lightning would face heavy repercussions against their cap in the following seasons.
It truly is the end of an era in Tampa as Martin St. Louis now remains as the only skater still on the roster from the 2004 Stanley Cup champion squad. However, with free agency set to begin on July 5th, there will be no time for mourning as Lecavalier will soon find himself on a new team with new challenges. Given his already lengthy tenure in the Sunshine State and the life he has created here, I find myself asking a simple question when pondering Vinny’s future …
Why not the Florida Panthers?
At first glance it may seem crazy for such an established Lightning player to have any desire to want to play for his longtime in-state rival, but let’s be honest, is the rivalry really that meaningful just yet? While the idea of an “in-state rivalry” sounds great when you say it, the organizational futility of the Panthers for the majority of their existence has deprived many of the team’s seasonal meetings of any playoff caliber intensity. As both organizations continue to grow and improve hopefully this changes, but as for now the “Battle For The Sunshine State” is hardly Yankees vs. Red Sox.
With the allegiance factor out of the equation, let us take a look at what factors may directly effect Lecavalier’s future as it pertains to joining the Florida Panthers.
Reasons It Works
- Need For a Top-Line Center: If the Panthers decide to select Seth Jones with the 2nd overall pick in Sunday’s NHL Entry Draft, the team will once again enter next season with a gaping hole at center. While the team still has talented centers like Nick Bjugstad, Drew Shore and Marcel Goc under contract, it is safe to say that any of those 3 players is 1st line material just yet. Although his production has dipped in recent seasons, Lecavalier is still a potential 70 point scorer as well as a veteran leader.
- Veteran Leadership: On a team filled with young offensive prospects, Lecavalier’s veteran leadership could be a great asset as the Panthers look to mold their prospects into future stars.
- Close Proximity To Home: Given the fact that Sunrise is only 3-4 hours away from Tampa, Lecavalier may want to remain in a state that he has called home since 1998.
- No State Income Tax: If Lecavalier does sign with the Panthers he will once again be treated to no state income tax on another multi-million dollar deal.
Reasons It Doesn’t Work
- Injury Concerns: Although he is only 33-years-old, Lecavalier already seems to be aging poorly as injuries have kept him from playing no more than 65 games each of the past 3 seasons.
- The Price Tag: Given his recent production, it’s reasonable to think that the once $7 million dollar man has now slipped more into the $4 million dollar range as far as yearly cap-hit is concerned. However, given the fact the Panthers are still dealing with the bad contracts of Scottie Upshall, Filip Kuba, and Ed Jovanovski, the team may be hesitant to spend money on what many consider to be a risk.
With over a week remaining until the start of free agency, the questions about Lecavalier’s future will have plenty of time to build traction around the league. While clearly there will be numerous teams vying for the services of a Stanley Cup winning centerman, it’s safe to say that even a team like the Florida Panthers has a shot. Until then, let us hope that Florida’s sandy beaches, abundance of golf course, and palm trees are things that Vincent Lecavalier simply can’t live without.
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