- Craig Custance
It was a decision necessitated by the new collective bargaining agreement. The Lightning are buying out the remainder of Vinny Lecavalier's contract and it's not because of performance. Yes, he was overpaid with a cap hit north of $7 million. But he was still an important player for the Lightning and a giant in the community.
In 39 games during the lockout-shortened season he had 32 points, and he remains a legitimate No. 2 center. Lecavalier is still just 33 years old, but with the cap coming down there is the potential of a hefty penalty because of the cap recapture rule. If Lecavalier retired early the Lightning would be hit with a harsh penalty, forcing GM Steve Yzerman to make one of the toughest decisions of his tenure, using a compliance buyout on a franchise icon and important member of the Tampa community.
"The economics and structure of the CBA are necessitating this decision," Yzerman said in the team's release announcing the decision.
Lecavalier's next team doesn't have those concerns. With a clean slate, Lecavalier will have no issues finding a job. Big centers like Lecavalier rarely hit the market, especially those with a Stanley Cup ring and a bona fide playoff resume. During Tampa's surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, Lecavalier showed he still could excel on the biggest stage, putting up 19 points in 18 games.
He'll have his choice of teams when he hits the open market.
"Of all the guys that get bought out this year, the line to sign him will be the longest," one NHL source said on Thursday morning.
Here's a look at destinations that make sense for the veteran center:
Lecavalier to Montreal trade rumors are an annual tradition in NHL circles. Now the Quebec native gets an opportunity to sign with the team he grew up rooting for. Lecavalier was always loyal to Tampa Bay and the Lightning when discussing rumors of a move to the Canadiens, but he never hid his passion for Montreal, either.
"I love the city of Montreal, I have never hidden that," he told La Presse in 2009. "I am from there. My family is from there, my friends as well. I grew up with the Canadiens."
Lecavalier would add size and experience on a young and small team. It's an ideal fit. Canadiens assistant GM Rick Dudley knows Lecavalier well from their time together in Tampa.