One of the more intriguing stories this summer is the situation in Tampa Bay with Vincent Lecavalier. The Lightning’s financial problems have been no secret for a while now and Lecavalier’s monstrosity of a contract (he signed an 11-year, $85 million contract last summer) makes him an ideal player to trade to help alleviate some of these issues. As good a player as he is, his contract will make it tough for the Lightning to find full value in a trade.
Before we look at the potential destinations, here is more background information on the situation. Getting out of debt would allow the Lightning to spend money currently going to the banks in the form of interest payments on players and roster upgrades. But can trading one of the most dominant players in the league be something they can sell to the fans and sponsors in the Tampa Bay area?
Lecavalier has a no-trade clause that kicks in on July 1st, so if he is moved look for it to be at or around the NHL Entry Draft in Montreal in June. He had a very mediocre season in 2008-2009, with only 29 goals and 67 points (a huge drop from the 92 points he had one season before, and 108 points a season before that). He was coming off of a serious shoulder operation (Mike Richards underwent a similar procedure this off-season, as did Phil Kessel), and never really got into a groove after a slow start. Based on everything I have read (and a bit of a personal hunch), I expect to see Lecavalier in another sweater come next October.
Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens have long been rumored to have interest in Lecavalier. He is from the Montreal area, grew up loving the team, and even played Jean Beliveau in The Rocket, a movie made a few years’ back about Maurice Richard. Lecavalier fills a void at center for the Canadiens, who have not had a dominant top line center in a long, long time. The rumor that broke during the season had Montreal dangling the likes of Josh Gorges and Chris Higgins (along with prospects and draft picks). They are very much a player in the Lecavalier sweepstakes, and Bob Gainey will want to make some significant changes to a roster that was a huge disappointment in 2008-2009.
Los Angeles Kings. The latest rumors have Lecavalier going to the Kings for a package containing defenseman Jack Johnson. Johnson is rumored to want out of Los Angeles after being severely lowballed by Dean Lombardi. (After Lombardi has done the same with Mike Cammalleri and Patrick O’Sullivan, I wonder if this surprises anyone?) The Kings already have a top line center in Anze Kopitar (and they pay him like one too as he makes close to $7 million per season). Kopitar and Lecavalier would be a fantastic duo at center, but a very pricey one as well. Will the Kings speed up the rebuild and move out some young assets to land a Lecavalier, or will they wait and try and sign Marian Gaborik in the summer?
Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers are a bit of a wildcard because like a lot of teams there is some uncertainty with their ownership situation right now. It is doubtful that the team would make a move for such a high-priced player, but you never know. They have the cap space, as well as the glaring need for a top line center. It would also go a long way in helping them convince Ilya Kovalchuk to remain a Thrasher long term. Imagine a Lecavalier-Kovalchuk duo? Scary.
Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are my personal pick to land Lecavalier, for a few reasons. Firstly, Brian Burke loves making noise at the draft. I can see him putting together a package containing some solid players able to help Tampa now, as well as some prospects and picks as well. The Leafs have lots of cap space, a need for talent up front, and a missing star since Mats Sundin left last summer. A Brian Burke team will not be relying on Mikhail Grabovski to be the top line center for another season, either. Tampa wants to cut some salary while still remaining in contention, so they may have interest in defensemen like Tomas Kaberle or Pavel Kubina. The no-trade clauses of some of the Leafs would come into effect once again in this scenario.
Minnesota Wild. The Wild are another dark horse team to land Lecavalier. They look to be cutting ties with Marian Gaborik, and have a new GM (Chuck Fletcher) and a new coach (TBA) coming in, and a shift in philosophy may be in order. The Wild have a solid top line center already in Mikko Koivu, but their offensive depth is very thin. They have some good prospects and defensemen they may be able to dangle in order to interest Tampa Bay. You can bet the Bolts want to get Lecavalier out of the East if they can, so Western Conference teams may have a slight edge here.
There are lots of other teams who may also be in the mix. The Oilers would love to have a top line center, but they have some big contracts that will be tough to move. The Canucks may make a play if they are unable to re-sign the Sedin twins. I think the odds Lecavalier gets traded are 80/20. If the Lightning decide to keep him, they will have to move some other salary. I don’t see Marty St. Louis ever being dealt, and Ryan Malone’s contract is basically unmovable.