This summer’s NHL buyout period is officially underway, and the Tampa Bay Lightning exercised one of their two compliance buyouts on long-tenured forward Vincent Lecavalier today.
“Vinny has been a significant reason for many of our past successes, including the 2004 Stanley Cup, and his contributions to the community are immeasurable,” said Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman. “The Lightning organization is indebted to Vinny. We thank him for all he has done here and we wish him well as he moves forward.”
Lecavalier had seven years remaining on an 11-year, $85 million contract that he signed with the Lightning in 2008. The buyout will see Tampa Bay pay out a total of $32.67 million and will rid the team of Lecavalier’s annual $7.727 million cap hit.
“After much internal deliberation, we believe this will prove to be a pivotal move for us as we strive to achieve our long term goal of competing at the highest level, year-in, year-out,” said Yzerman. “The economics and structure of the CBA are necessitating this decision and we at the Lightning are excited at the newly created opportunities this presents to us.”
Lecavalier had spent his entire 15-year NHL career with Tampa Bay, racking up 383 goals and 874 points in 1,037 games. He twice posted 90 or more points with the Lightning and scored 20 or more goals in 12 different seasons. He won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2006-07 with 52 goals and added another 56 assists for a total of 108 points – a career best.
After the compliance buyout, Lecavalier emerges as one of the top free agents this summer and will likely be highly sought-after. Even at the age of 33, he has shown a continued knack for scoring, tallying 10 goals and 32 points in 39 regular season games this past season. However, he has also dealt with injury troubles in recent years, undergoing shoulder surgery in 2008 and wrist surgery in 2009.
Rumors surfaced that the Lightning tried to circumvent the rules of the current CBA by soliciting a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs for Lecavalier and another player, who would then buy out Lecavalier’s contract so he could re-sign as a free agent with Tampa Bay for a lesser, more cap-friendly amount this summer. The Leafs denied the report, but a memo was sent to all 30 NHL clubs regardless reiterating that this would be considered cap circumvention.
There is a good chance that he could sign a one-year contract with a team as a free agent and then look to re-sign with Tampa Bay next summer. The likely forerunner to sign Lecavalier this summer would be his hometown team, the Montreal Canadiens. Lecavalier has been linked to the Canadiens before, going back to 2009 when rumors surfaced that the Lightning had orchestrated a deal to send Lecavalier to Montreal. The deal never materialzed.
The Rangers, Canucks, Flyers and Maple Leafs are also potential destinations. The Nashville Predators have some cap space and would probably love to get a player like Lecavalier on their roster, and don’t count out the Detroit Red Wings, who will be in the market for a solid second-line center should Valterri Filppula not re-sign with the team.