Vincent Lecavalier: Are the Toronto Maple Leafs A Good Fit?
With news hitting the airwaves that Vincent Lecavalier will be bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning there is plenty of speculation as to where the veteran forward will land once he hits unrestricted free agency on July, 5th.
Originally drafted first overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, Lecavalier, 33, had seven years remaining on his deal that (according to capgeek.com) would pay him an average of $7.73 million per season. As a result of the buyout, the Lightning will knock Lecavalier’s contract off the books, but will still be on the hook for two-thirds of the contracts value— around $2 million per year for the next 15 years.
With Lecavalier bought out, he will now become a unrestricted free agent on July, 5th, freeing him up to sign wherever he wishes.
In an effort to keep Lecavalier in Tampa, the Lightning reportedly tried to send Lecavalier to the Toronto Maple Leafs this week along with a draft pick and a prospect. Toronto was said to be willing to use their second buyout on Lecavalier in return for the the prospect and pick. This move would have allowed Lecavalier to become a UFA and sign with any club he chose, including the Lightning. Tampa would then step up with a discounted offer, thus keeping Lecavalier in Tampa. Unfortunately, the NHL rejected this idea, causing Tampa to buy Lecavalier out of his contract without hope of re-signing him.
Listed at 6’4”, 215 pounds, Lecavalier spent 14 seasons (1,037 games played) with the Lightning, registering 383 goals (112 on the power play) and 491 assists for a total of 874 points.
While not a stellar defensive player (he is a career minus-117), Lecavalier is a former 52-goal scorer (2006-07), who is capable of scoring 20-plus goals per season.
Injuries have limited Lecavalier’s play to 65 (2010-11) and 64 (2011-12) games played before registering a 39-game performance in last years 48-game season. Despite Lecavalier’s injury woes and defensive shortcomings, there will be a heated battle amongst NHL general manager’s to bring Vinny to their respective clubs.
The Montreal Canadiens (the team Lecavalier routed for as a child), Toronto Maple Leafs (who are in dire need of a first line centre), Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers (who vowed to make changes this off-season) and Anaheim Ducks could all be interested in Lecavalier.
Clearly, given Lecavalier’s skill-set and cache, he will have his pick of teams to play for. He is still a point-a-game player with a Stanley Cup ring (2004) and veteran experience.
For his part, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman had nothing but good things to say about Lecavalier.
“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 Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman in a statement. “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.
Born in Ile Bizard, Quebec, the thought of playing for the Montreal Canadiens (who have shown interest in Lecavalier before) may be enticing for Lecavalier. Montreal offers a competitive team and a chance to play for the club that Vinny grew up cheering for.
According to capgeek.com, Montreal currently has 20 players under contract, carrying a cap-hit of $58,815,000. With the salary cap limited to $64,300,000 next season the Canadiens look to have enough cap room to fill out their roster with Lecavalier joining the team, but it would be tight.
In the end, Lecavalier’s contract demands will play a role in where he lands. Would he be willing to take less to play in Montreal? Or, will he be seeking similar numbers to what he was making in Tampa— say $7 million per season?
According to capgeek.com, the Toronto Maple Leafs have 11 players under contract at a cap-hit of $44,063,100. On the surface, Toronto has plenty of room under the cap in which to bring Lecavalier into the fold. That said, with four unrestricted free agents and eight restricted free agents to be considered for re-signing, Toronto general manager Dave Nonis would have some tough decisions to make should he decide to bring Lecavalier into the fold.
The Maple Leafs have long needed a first line centre. The addition of Lecavalier would give the Leafs a bona-fide number one centre, with a veteran presence who is more than capable of raising the games of James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kesel— who could be Lecavalier’s linemates should he sign in Toronto.
With Nazem Kadri still evolving into a true number one centre, Lecavalier could also act as a mentor for the talented sniper while giving the Leafs a measure of depth they haven’t enjoyed in years.
In order to facilitate bringing Lecavalier to Toronto Nonis may consider using his second compliance buyout on underperforming centre Mikhail Grabovski who registered nine goals, 16 points in 48 games last season.
According to capgeek.com, Grabovski carries a cap-hit of $5.5 million through 2016-17. If Lecavalier costs you $7.0 million per season, but you could off-set those costs by buying out Grabovski, would you make the move? Absolutely!
With the Maple Leafs organization dripping in cash, buying out Grabovski isn’t an issue. In the end, should Lecavalier decide on the Maple Leafs, what it equates to for Nonis is Lecavalier for Grabovski. How could you not make that deal?
With Lecavalier set to become a UFA on July, 5th, there has never been a better chance for the Maple Leafs to acquire a number one centre. Here’s hoping Lecavalier choses Toronto.