Vincent Lecavalier…the player referred to as “the Michael Jordan of hockey” by former Tampa Bay Lightning owner Art Williams…will no longer be a part of that organization’s future. One of the first casualties of the NHL’s compliance buyout period, (which began Wednesday night at 11:00), Lecavalier will be playing elsewhere next season, leaving behind a long history in Tampa, both on and off the ice.
Lecavalier still has seven years left on his current contract which is worth around $7.7 million per season. But by in taking this step, the Lightning will erase that cap hit from their books. They will now pay two-thirds of the contract value over twice the time.
“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,” Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was quoted in the team’s official press release announcing the decision to part ways with their captain. “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. 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. 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.”
Tampa Bay selected Lecavalier as with their first overall pick in the 1998 draft and was indeed a major part of the Bolts success, including a successful Stanley Cup run in 2004. Lecavalier played in 1,037 regular-season, (most ever by a Lightning player), and 63 postseason games. Other Lightning franchise records held by Lecavalier are: goals (383), power-play goals (112), and game-winning goals (60).
His streak of 12 straight 20-goal seasons fell victim to the lockout-shortened season this year, he won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy with 52 goals in 2006-07, and he has appeared in four All-Star Games.
However, his departure will be felt outside of the Tampa Bay Times Forum as well. He was not only a favorite of hockey fans there, but has been heavily involved in the community almost since the time he arrived in Tampa.
An All Children’s Hospital currently completed in 2010 in St. Petersburg was named the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center in his honor following a $3 million pledge in 2007. Other off-ice achievments include winning the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his charitable and humanitarian work and earning an NHL Foundation Award for community enrichment in 2008, an award of excellence by the local Ronald McDonald House in 2009, and in 2011 he was honored by the local Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Just last year, Lecavalier was named a Lightning Community Hero and will be honored at a Lightning home game next season for his work in the area.
But business is business, and regardless of his overall popularity and contributions throughout his career the Lightning are in a transition period and they are looking to retool for the future.
As such, rumors of the team casting off Lecavalier have circulated for some time. Recently the New York Post reported that the Bolts and Toronto Maple Leafs had begun trade talks for the veteran forward. The scoop was that the Leafs would obtain Vinny in exchange for undisclosed assets, they would buy out his contract, then he would be able to sign again with the Lightning as a free agent at a much lower salary, reducing the cap hit Tampa Bay were facing by keeping him.
While these reports were denied, it prompted NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly to forward a memo throughout the league warning teams against engaging in discussions which could be interpreted by the league as trying to circumvent the current CBA.
NHL rules prohibit teams from re-signing players that have been bought out for one year.
As for his future place of employment, ESPN.com’s Craig Custance reports that the Montreal Canadiens top the list of possible destinations.
Whether its is with the Habs or elsewhere, Lecavalier will no doubt have a decent list of suitors vying for his services, and the fan base there will be gaining more than just a player. However, his legacy has already been carved out in Tampa Bay…both on and off the ice.
Photo credit: Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)