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Lecavalier An Option For Many Teams

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
I hear the questions all the time.

Why can’t my team sign Ilya Kovalchuk?

Why can’t we trade a back of pucks and a third liner for Sidney Crosby?
You get the idea.

These questions aren’t malicious and as someone who has asked enough, I acknowledge the absolute right to ask silly questions.

But the answer is always the same. What would possess a rival GM to give up premium talent for scant return? If you can’t answer that question, the scenario falls apart very quickly.

Consider this a trade question primer.

Thursday night as Greg Millen commented on the sorry fate of Vincent Lecavalier. Once one of the game’s premier players and still the game’s highest salaried performer, Lecavalier looks like a shadow of the glorious player he had been. He is 29 years old.

With 11 years left on a monstrous contract, he is a second-line center playing with linemates who don’t have a hair of his ability. Lecavalier, who has 18 goals and 59 points, makes $1million more than the premier offensive talents in the league: Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin. And he will make that salary, $10 million, annually over the next six years.

I know this sounds like one of those far-fetched fan questions, but here is a scenario that may be worth considering.

A team could land a stud centre without disturbing its core.

Let’s look at the dynamics of such a trade in the new NHL. The era of players having to fetch comparable players in trades has long passed. New Tampa owner Jeff Vinik is looking at paying Lecavalier $85 million over the term of his contract. Vinik’s wealth has been estimated at $515 million. Do you think he’s willing to hand over one sixth of his personal wealth to keep a second line hockey player. Eventually, he will need to pay Steve Stamkos market value and if he doesn’t move now, he will still have Lecavalier in his mid 30s and even less marketable than he is right now.

Clearly Lecavalier is an asset that has to be moved. At first glance, Lecavalier’s salary and age seem to make him virtually untradeable.

But Lecavalier’s actual cap hit is $7.7 million. In the final four years his salary falls to $14.5 million and he will be useful for any team willing to pay next to nothing for a player who can bring them to the salary floor. Amortize a buyout over the last four seasons and you have one of the game’s glorious talents, for a pretty manageable salary.

Lecavalier’s game has been in freefall, of course. He has dropped from 52 goals to 40 to 29 to 18 this season.

And any team who coveted him would have to ship two roster players and a minor leaguer or draft choice to allow the Lightning to return some cheaper talent with some promise.

Now, I have no idea if this deal would fly and there would be competition. The Montreal Canadiens have long been rumoured to covet Lecavalier and some of the other big-ticket teams, the New York Rangers come to mind, would be sure to sense blood in the water and try to leverage the Lightning. There are a thousand variables, salary cap and free agent plans are principal among them. There remains some the political repercussions of trading Lecavalier for the Lightning, although that has been augmented by the phenomenal success enjoyed by Stamkos.

But here, for your approval, is a deal where a team could give up salary relief for a gifted player who would rejuvenate most franchises.

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