Cross Checks: Vincent Lecavalier
Attention, Lightning fans: We need to hear from you.
We want to know whom you consider the face of the Tampa Bay franchise.
The team has played 21 seasons, won one Stanley Cup and made seven postseason appearances.
Which player has meant the most to the team during that time?
Is the current leader of the team, Steven Stamkos, already the ultimate franchise player? Are the heroes of the not-so-distant past -- Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards -- still the Lightning's biggest stars?
Now it's time for you to vote. Who is the Lightning's franchise player?
You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, hit us up on Twitter @ESPN_NHL using the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL.
After his team was eliminated from the playoffs by the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers winger Jakub Voracek was asked what the difference in the series was.
“One goal,” he replied.
Two words. So simple. So accurate.
And so painful to swallow.
Philadelphia’s season started with a stunning coaching change and a franchise-worst 1-7 start, and ended with a 2-1 loss to New York in Game 7 on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
“Everyone feels lousy, obviously, but I’m proud of our players,” said Craig Berube, who took over behind the bench after Peter Laviolette was fired just three games into the season.
“They went through a lot this year. We were stuck in a hole for awhile, and they battled out of it and stuck together. There’s a lot of character in our locker room.”
The difference in Wednesday night’s game was one goal, and three words: the second period.
Following a scoreless opening frame, the Rangers tallied twice in the second, getting goals from Daniel Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot and outshooting the Flyers, 18-5.
“I was trying to get away from their D, and I’m not sure if (Anton Stralman) got his stick on it,” Giroux said. “I shot up high because the goalie was low.”
The Flyers got within a goal in the third when rookie Jason Akeson tallied his second of the postseason, but that’s as close as they would come.
“It’s the worst feeling ever,” Voracek said. “You come so close, do-or-die and lose that critical Game 7. That’s hockey. We got to make sure and learn from it and use it in the future.”
In the end, the power-play may have done the Flyers in: they went 5-for-8 in their three wins, 1-for-13 in their four losses.
“Special teams are important,” said Vincent Lecavalier, whose team killed off 21 straight Rangers power plays to end the series but still lost. “They were aggressive and they played well on the PK tonight.”
Throughout a Stanley Cup drought that has now reached 38 years, Philadelphia’s Achilles heal has always been goaltending, but even in the loss Steve Mason proved he might be the one to change that. After missing the early part of the series due to a concussion, Mason started the final four games, compiling a 1.97 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage.
He made 31 saves in Game 7, several of them -- including his highway robbery of Derek Stepan at the doorstep in the second -- of the highlight reel variety.
If Mason were healthy throughout the series, who knows, maybe the Rangers would be the team going home.
“From the time he took over until now, he’s really developed into a terrific goalie,” Berube said of Mason.
With a young core in place that features Giroux (26 years old), Mason (25), Wayne Simmonds (25), Voracek (24), Akeson (23), Sean Couturier (21) and the Schenn brothers (Luke, 24 and Brayden, 22), the Flyers appear primed to be a playoff contender for years to come.
Still, they’re going to have to solidify their defense. And when it comes down to it, their goal-scorers are going to have to score goals in the biggest games.
Historically, they have. This time they came up short.
One goal short.
“For a young team, I think it’s great. This is only going to make it stronger,” Giroux said.
Let's end this week of questions with a lightning round, and that's not a reference to the team based in Tampa. Here we go. Give us your biggest question for 2013-14 in the comments section.
Daniel Alfredsson in Detroit: Does Alfredsson, 40, have enough left in the tank to make a difference in the Motor City? He will get every opportunity to prove he was worth the gamble by the Red Wings and will do his darndest to win a Stanley Cup and prove the Senators were messing with him all those years.
Vincent Lecavalier in Philadelphia: Lecavalier, 33, isn't as washed up as some people believe. It just feels like he's been in the league forever because he started so young. He has won a Stanley Cup and will be similarly motivated to show people he still has something left. But he won't be as good as the Flyers need him to be or as Flyers fans expect him to be (tough crowd), especially while carrying a $4.5 million cap hit.
Ray Emery in Philadelphia: Montreal, Toronto and Philly are the toughest markets on goalies. Emery, 30, will do well but won't live up to lofty expectations. Again, tough market. Two reasons he could prove me wrong: He's still got a lot of hockey left in him, and he's on a one-year deal at a reasonable $1.65 million.
Jaromir Jagr in New Jersey: Jagr, 41, loves the game, and it's loving him right back. But can you imagine him thriving while playing for Lou Lamoriello? Neither can I.
David Clarkson in Toronto: Man, tough go there. Clarkson, 29, says Wendel Clark was his idol growing up and many Leafs fans are going to want a similar level of play. No disrespect intended, but Clarkson is a solid 15- to 20-goal scorer at his top end who will be a $5.25 million cap hit in his first season. He's no Wendel Clark (few are).
Matt Cooke in Minnesota: Not going to work. Cooke, 34, is not a good value at $2.5 million, especially on that team.
Andrew Ference in Edmonton: Ference, 34, still has some game left in him and is the kind of defenseman the Oilers have been seeking for years. He will help that young dressing room hit the mature button a lot sooner than it would have without him. This is a great move for the Oilers.
Valtteri Filppula in Tampa: Filppula, 29, will have the same cap hit on the Lightning ($5 million) as Ryan Kessler does for the Canucks and James Neal does for the Penguins. Which player would you rather spend that cash on?
Nathan Horton in Columbus: If his shoulder surgery heals properly, Horton could be a catalyst for the Blue Jackets. The biggest issue will be to see how he adapts to not having Milan Lucic and David Krejci making room for him every game.
Jarome Iginla in Boston: Iginla, 36, will like being in the Eastern Conference, with all its relatively cushy travel, and is one of the best guys in all of sports. But, sadly, it appears his better days are behind him, so a $6 million cap hit is outright robbery.
Dustin Penner in Anaheim: Penner, 30, was a frequent healthy scratch with the Kings last season, is on a one-year contract and could be on his way to further marginalization if he doesn't step it up.
Mike Ribeiro in Phoenix: Ribiero, 33, is on his third team in three seasons and clearly wants to show what he's capable of when not playing one the same side as the most talented winger in the game (Alex Ovechkin, by the way). It is an odd choice, though, considering that the Coyotes' lack of talent likely will result in lower numbers. Still, it's nice to see a team owned by the league support the PA with such a crazy-good contract ($5.5 million cap hit) for a player who has topped 80 points just once.
Michael Ryder in New Jersey: Ryder, 33, is usually good for 30 goals every season, which means he'll probably get 25 on the Devils. He's on his fourth team in five seasons, though, which is a concern.
Viktor Stalberg in Nashville: Stalberg, 27, wasn't going to get that kind of coin ($3 million cap hit) from the Blackhawks, but he is talented and has a chance to show his former team that he would have been worth it by signing with a team in the same division. He'll put up decent numbers with lots of ice time.
Stephen Weiss in Detroit: People likened Weiss to Steve Yzerman when he broke into the league, so this is a full circle of sorts. Weiss, 30, should fit well into the Red Wings' way of thinking. GM Ken Holland doesn't spend that kind of money ($4.9 million cap hit, fourth on the team) very often, so you know he's scoped this out from all angles.
I’m man enough to admit it when I guess wrong, and in the case of Vincent Lecavalier, I felt all along that he’d end up with the Dallas Stars.
Well, he almost did. The Stars were in there to the end, a source confirmed.
But the Philadelphia Flyers won out, agreeing to pay $22.5 million over five years for the 33-year-old center.
The Montreal Canadiens were in the mix for a good run, as well, but couldn’t make it work. The Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings also got serious consideration from Lecavalier among the 15 or so teams that showed interest.
“Wow,” one executive, whose team wasn’t in the running, texted to ESPN.com after the deal was announced.
Is Lecavalier worth $4.5 million a season?
The Flyers get a very motivated player who is out to prove he can still compete at an elite level. And in choosing Philadelphia, Lecavalier proved many wrong and showed that he was willing to go to a real hockey market.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux was pumped to hear the news, texting ESPN.com to say, “Really excited, he will bring a lot to our team.”
Lecavalier will bring his 6-foot-4 frame, to be sure, and hands that have always been soft. I give Lecavalier credit for not choosing what seemed like the safest choice in Dallas, where he would have made good money and been left alone, as was the case all those years with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team in another non-traditional hockey market.
He’s in for a bigger challenge in Philly.
The Flyers, meanwhile, will surely try to move out a body or two. And don’t forget they still need to find another goalie. This could reignite those Braydon Coburn trade talks.
• The focus now shifts to fellow buyout unrestricted free agent Danny Briere before the rest of the UFA market opens Friday. The Canadiens, having lost out on Lecavalier, made contact with Briere's camp Tuesday night, a source confirmed to ESPN.com. Sources also indicated that the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Nashville Predators are among the teams to show solid interest in Briere and have already spoken to the Briere camp, which is led by agent Pat Brisson. Other teams were expected to contact Briere's camp Tuesday night and Wednesday.
• Daniel Alfredsson hasn’t re-signed with the Ottawa Senators, and while I still don’t think we’ll see him in a different uniform, I warned everyone last week after he announced he was playing another season that his contract wasn’t a rubber stamp. Still no contract with Ottawa, and here comes the 48-hour window when other teams can call free agents. I fully expect other clubs to contact Alfredsson’s agent, J.P. Barry, once that window opens. And why not listen to what’s out there, even if you still plan on ultimately re-signing with Ottawa? Stranger things have happened. I bet you my Tony Romo Dallas Cowboys jersey that the Bruins will be among the teams to phone Alfredsson's camp. GM Peter Chiarelli was with the Senators’ front office before going to Boston and knows Alfredsson well, and it just so happens he has a hole in his top six with Nathan Horton leaving. Different player, I know, and Alfredsson is aging, but Chiarelli has always admired the Swedish winger. Not trying to make Senators fans paranoid; odds are he stays put. Just pointing out that other teams will be phoning.
• The San Jose Sharks traded winger T.J. Galiardi to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in 2015. With rookie center Tomas Hertl expected to play with the Sharks next season, plus newly acquired winger Tyler Kennedy in the fold, San Jose had to move a body out. It also suggests that the Brent Burns experiment at forward could be permanent. At some point, I think, you’ll see the Sharks announce that they plan on using him up front again next season.
It is very possible, although not quite a guarantee, that Vincent Lecavalier will choose his next team by the end of the day Wednesday.
The UFA center, who is allowed to speak with teams earlier than other UFAs because his contract was bought out, has been deliberating with family where the best fit might be for him to continue this career.
The likes of the Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames are among the teams that have shown interest.
The decision for Lecavalier begins with Montreal. He has to decide whether he wants to go home and deal with both the perks and detriments of playing in his native town. And if he goes home, it’s not going to be for the same kind of money or term other clubs would have offered. If he’s a Hab, it’s more because he really, really wants to be one. Montreal definitely has interest in signing him, but it’s going to have to be on a reasonable deal that fits within its cap and payroll structure.
But no one should fault Lecavalier if he decides to avoid that situation; that’s his choice as a UFA.
I still think Dallas is a solid possibility for Lecavalier if he wants to remain in a quiet, nontraditional hockey place such as the environment he has experienced his entire career with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And I think the Stars are willing to go five years on a deal.
While it’s true to a degree, as Nashville Predators GM David Poile suggested to his local media Tuesday, that Lecavalier would prefer to stay in the East, it does not preclude him from playing in Dallas, I can tell you that.
Detroit is a great fit, too, and so is Boston. We’ll know soon enough.
As a reminder, beginning at 12:01 a.m. ET Wednesday (so basically Tuesday night), a wrinkle in the new CBA kicks in that NHL fans haven’t seen before: Free agents have the right to speak with other teams in the 48-hour lead-up to the opening of the market Friday.
So for teams trying to re-sign their free agents, Tuesday was their last day of exclusivity to do so. For example, it was the last day for New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello to be the only voice in David Clarkson’s ear. Clarkson recently turned down an offer from the Devils and most likely is headed to the market. Then again, maybe Uncle Lou has another last trick up his sleeve.
• Traded texts Tuesday morning with UFA forward Danny Briere. He says he’s talking to teams as he’s narrowing his focus. We should know more Wednesday.
• The Devils and pending UFA center Patrik Elias were close to a deal, but it wasn’t done as of noon ET Tuesday, agent Allan Walsh said. Walsh also represents winger Pascal Dupuis, another pending UFA, and the agent said talks with the Pittsburgh Penguins were continuing.
• Pending UFA winger Damien Brunner was a day away from being able to speak with the 29 other teams. His agent, Neil Sheehy, told ESPN.com via email Tuesday morning that he planned to talk again with Detroit but wasn’t sure where it was all headed.
• The Predators put veteran blueliner Hal Gill on waivers. He has one year left on his deal at $2 million. GM David Poile said via text that the blue line is a little crowded given the drafting of Seth Jones, and the hope is to find a new home for Gill. If no one claims him on waivers, another possibility would be to buy him out.
Kris Letang’s camp and the Pittsburgh Penguins had more dialogue Saturday night, both sides still committed to figuring something out. Not sure whether they’ll be able to, but they continue to talk.
On the Vincent Lecavalier front, meanwhile, these are the teams he met with Saturday: the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins.
Lecavalier was slated to meet with the Detroit Red Wings and Calgary Flames on Sunday morning. The Vancouver Canucks might also be interested.
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Boston Bruins appeared ready to shake things up Saturday on the eve of the NHL draft.
All confirmed by sources:
• Nathan Horton's camp informed Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli on Saturday afternoon that the unrestricted free agent winger was leaving the organization.
“Nathan Horton has informed the Bruins that he is going to explore his options via unrestricted free agency," agent Paul Krepelka reiterated to ESPN.com, a statement that he first gave to TSN's Bob McKenzie.
• Tyler Seguin’s name was making the rounds in trade chatter, with the Bruins willing to listen.
• The Bruins would like to move up in the draft.
• And add Boston to the long list of teams that have inquired about UFA center Vincent Lecavalier.
The Bruins have a lot of balls in the air, a rival team executive told ESPN.com, and they are talking to a lot of teams about a lot of things. Chiarelli was spotted at one point Saturday chatting closely with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. Could it have been about Seguin? Hard to say. Maybe Chiarelli was getting a scouting report on Lecavalier. Or maybe they were making a dinner date.
Meanwhile, Lecavalier and agent Kent Hughes were in the process of reducing their list of suitors. The expectation was that they would have a short list by the end of the night or early Sunday.
Hughes was also meeting with interested teams Saturday. Aside from Boston, other confirmed teams that have expressed varying degrees of interest for Lecavalier include the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues. As reported Friday, some 15 teams have called.
Don't sleep on Dallas. The Stars have serious interest in Lecavalier. They want to make the playoffs next year, and new GM Jim Nill sees Lecavalier as a perfect addition.
But you can scratch the Chicago Blackhawks off that list. A source told ESPN.com on Saturday that the Hawks are not interested. Some fans may have dreamed of having Lecavalier fit in as the team’s No. 2 center, but the Hawks aren’t going to enter the fray, instead focusing on trying to re-sign winger Bryan Bickell. The Hawks and Bickell’s agent, Todd Diamond, have had constant dialogue throughout the week and spoke again Saturday.
The reasoning behind the Lecavalier camp wanting to produce a short list in quick order is that the teams involved need to know as soon as possible. For whichever teams are seriously in the hunt, it could have a domino effect on what needs to be done with the rest of their rosters and potentially in the draft.
So in fairness to that reality, the Lecavalier camp is keen to try to expedite the process this weekend.
He can’t officially sign with a team until July 5, but all the leg work can be done now.
Schneider in play
Saturday got off to quite a bang in NHL circles with my colleague Darren Dreger of TSN breaking the story via Twitter that the Canucks were suddenly putting Cory Schneider in play.
After trying without success for a year to unload Roberto Luongo and his monster contract, could it be the Canucks figured they had to move the younger goalie instead?
“To be honest, it makes sense in a way,” a rival GM told ESPN.com on Saturday after the news broke.
With a lack of trade interest in Luongo, the thinking is that if a team pays big for Schneider, the Canucks can improve and still have a world-class goalie in net.
Another player who generated a lot of calls toward Vancouver is defenseman Alex Edler. His no-trade clause kicks in July 1, but teams are already calling.
Schneider would be a good fit on teams like the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames or Edmonton Oilers.
“He’s definitely in play,” an agent told ESPN.com on Saturday afternoon.
Schneider has two years left on his deal at $4 million per season.
Thing is, dealing away Schneider wouldn’t necessarily solve the Luongo mess. I believe Luongo wants out regardless. Trading Schneider, I don’t think, would change his feelings on that.
Oye, stay tuned ...
• Hearing positive vibes out of the talks between pending UFA netminder Mike Smith and the Phoenix Coyotes. GM Don Maloney and some of his staff met with Smith in Vancouver last week to have a heart-to-heart session. Still a factor is the future of the franchise, so I wouldn’t expect Smith to be willing to sign until after that July 2 Glendale lease vote. But the re-signing of coach Dave Tippett was an important move in terms of Smith wanting to stay. If he does sign, I believe it will be a six-year deal.
• Hughes, the agent for Kris Letang, was slated to meet with Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero on Saturday afternoon in the N.Y./N.J. area. In the wake of Letang rejecting Pittsburgh’s $56 million, eight-year offer Thursday, sources around the league confirm that Shero made some calls to other teams Friday to lay the groundwork for potential trade talks. But Saturday’s meeting, I think, is being viewed by both sides as a chance to salvage the situation and find common ground on keeping Letang in Pittsburgh. We shall see.
• The Canadiens hold the 25th pick in the first round Sunday. I’m told they would like to move up and have made some calls to that effect. But I think the Habs will wait until the draft has begun and see how it progresses before making a move in that regard. It will depend on whether certain prospects they have circled on their scouting list are still available.
• The Flyers are taking calls on blueliner Braydon Coburn, multiples sources confirm. He has three years on his deal with a $4.5 million cap hit.
• USA Hockey announced its coaching staff for the Olympics on Saturday, and the Penguins’ Dan Bylsma gets the nod as head coach. If the NHL and NHLPA can wrap up the Olympic deal at Monday’s meeting with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation, the plan is for Hockey Canada to announce its coaching staff shortly thereafter, perhaps within a day or two. As I reported in April, the Canadian coaching staff will have Mike Babcock at the helm again, along with Ken Hitchcock, Lindy Ruff and newcomer Claude Julien (who replaces the retired Jacques Lemaire).
While the 33-year-old center technically can’t sign with anyone other than the Tampa Bay Lightning until July 5, league rules allow his camp to talk to other teams until then. And that process started in a hurry.
"We have been reached out to by a number of teams, easily a dozen or more," Kent Hughes, Lecavalier’s agent, told ESPN.com Friday afternoon. "This is the beginning of the process in trying to understand the various situations and trying to narrow it down."
It was still way too early, Hughes said, to declare any potential front-runners. The process will need some time before that becomes clear.
But it’s an important time for the Lecavalier camp. The ability to speak to teams right away gives him a leg up on regular UFAs, who have to wait until the July 3-4 window. Hughes will want to get a lot of the legwork done before getting ready to sign his client to a new team July 5.
In the meantime, Lecavalier is organizing his thoughts right now, trying to figure out what markets would best suit him, etc.
During a media call Thursday, Lecavalier mentioned the Detroit Red Wings as a team he liked growing up (along with the Montreal Canadiens). Well, the feeling is apparently mutual. A source Friday said that the Wings have interest in Lecavalier, although certainly not at any cost. It’s going to have to make sense both in salary and term. And the Wings know they won’t be alone in a courtship of Lecavalier.
Pending UFA Stephen Weiss is another potential option for the second-line center job in Detroit, but there will be lots of competition for his services as well.
The Wings are not approaching their buying season with any kind of desperation. They feel they’re in good shape. They’ve got youth coming up, their AHL team just won the Calder Cup, and they’re not going to go out of their way to overspend in free agency for the sake of it.
And if they can’t find a center in free agency or via trade, they can always put Henrik Zetterberg in the No. 2 slot, separating him from Pavel Datsyuk.
This is all pending the expectation that Valtteri Filppula is headed to market. The pending UFA forward is not close to a new deal with Detroit, and while the Wings and his agent were slated to speak again this weekend, odds of a new deal don’t seem great.
And that is why guys like Lecavalier and Weiss could be options in free agency.
Keep an eye on former Detroit assistant GM Jim Nill, by the way. I hear the new Dallas Stars GM also would like to add a veteran forward, and Lecavalier and Weiss are on his radar. He could be competing with his old pal Ken Holland for some of the same players.
The Stars have the long view of wanting to key on drafting and development, but in the short term they also want to shore up the roster with a few more veterans in order to contend for the playoffs next season. They already began that process by trading for and signing defenseman Sergei Gonchar.
• In the wake of my report Thursday night that the Kris Letang camp had rejected a $56 million, eight-year offer from the Pittsburgh Penguins, both sides were mostly quiet Friday.
Penguins GM Ray Shero declined to comment on the situation when reached by ESPN.com Friday. His quiet demeanor leads you to believe that perhaps he has begun to look at the trade market on Letang. Mind you, it’s also expected that Shero and Hughes, who is also Letang’s agent, would speak this weekend at some point to see where they can take this after so far failing to find the right number for an extension.
“Our goal remains to see if there’s a deal that can be worked out,” Hughes told ESPN.com Friday afternoon.
• I’m not surprised the New York Rangers decided to not buy out Brad Richards. With a new coach in place, it behooves the Blueshirts to see if Alain Vigneault can get Richards back on track. (Vigneault and Richards met for a 90-minute chat recently.) Richards has been working out with Martin St. Louis in Connecticut lately, and in speaking to him the other day, Richards sounded like a man hell bent on proving to people he’s still an elite player.
This was the right call by the Rangers. Besides, if Richards doesn’t bounce back, the Rangers can use their last compliance buyout on him next summer.
• Hearing that goalie Jonas Hiller could be available for the right price. He’s got one more year on his contract at $4.5 million, so this is the time to move him for maximum value. From talking to sources around the league, the sense is that the Anaheim Ducks are not really shopping Hiller, but given their depth in goal -- 19-year-old John Gibson is a highly rated prospect, plus Viktor Fasth proved himself this past season -- a good offer on Hiller would probably make the team think, at the very least.
• The Ottawa Senators got great news Friday with captain Daniel Alfredsson informing them he’d be returning for another season. And they got the news in a timely fashion, before the offseason really got going.
“He brings to the table not only talent, but the intangibles are just as important for the most part: leadership, character, the willingness to work with young players,” veteran Sens GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com Friday afternoon. “It’s nice to hear that he wants to play. Now it’s just a matter of getting a contract done with him.”
Well, there is that. Alfredsson will be UFA July 5. His agent, J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, was slated to speak with Murray later Friday to get the ball rolling in talks.
It’s funny. Most people view this as a formality given that Alfredsson has never played anywhere else. Thing is, even at his age, Alfredsson was third in team scoring this past season with 26 points (10-16) in 47 games, albeit on an injury-ravaged team. He’s not going to sign for peanuts, is what I’m saying.
• The Senators, by the way, would like to move up in the draft from their current 17th overall spot. Murray has made a few calls to see if there’s any possibility of ending up in the 5-10 range.
• The Carolina Hurricanes are taking calls on the No. 5 overall pick and are willing to move down for the right price. The Canes are on the lookout for a top-four blueliner this offseason.
• Bill Zito, agent for star goalie Tuukka Rask, expects to meet with Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli on Saturday here during draft weekend. Rask, of course, is an RFA July 5 and is going to rake it in.
• Perhaps a hint of what’s to come for Thomas Vanek? The Buffalo Sabres have yet to approach his camp with any word of a contract extension. With one year left on his deal, either you sign the player this summer or trade him. Makes no sense to let him enter next season on an expiring deal and have the asset diminish in value.
And I leave you with some food for thought:
One thing to look for over the next week, according to one NHL player agent: If talks break down between pending UFAs and their respective teams, the possibility exists of a sign-and-trade to take advantage of the CBA rule that allows teams to sign their free agents to eight-year deals, whereas players can get only seven years on the open market.
Both the player and team would have a potential gain. The former team could get more value in a trade if the player is signed, and the player gets an extra year in term with his new team.
A source also told ESPN.com that the Letang camp counter-offered with a long-term deal south of $8 million a year and that it was deemed too rich by the Pens.
Where it goes from here remains unclear. Perhaps another offer will come, or the rejection could spur Pens GM Ray Shero into finally putting the All-Star defenseman on the trade market.
Letang has one year left on his deal, which pays him $3.5 million. Only 26, he’d be in huge demand on the UFA market. If Shero decides to move him, the list of teams wanting a top-end defenseman like Letang would be through the roof.
• Contract talks have gone on in earnest the past few days between Bryan Bickell’s camp and the Chicago Blackhawks. Bickell is a pending UFA.
• Teams already have reached out to Vincent Lecavalier’s camp, on the same day he was bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Although Lecavalier can’t sign with anyone until July 5, the league confirmed to ESPN.com that his camp is allowed to talk to teams now because he’s been bought out.
• Spoke with an executive from an opposing team earlier Thursday who said the Blackhawks have made center Dave Bolland available for trade. Doesn’t mean they’ll move him, but they’re listening ...
It is first and foremost a business. Always has been, always will be.
But know this: The business of the National Hockey League is, at its heart, about forging a real and emotional bond between a player and his community. Love the team, yes, but especially in places like Tampa and especially in the beginning, it is about loving the player and the player learning the game and ultimately embracing the team.
That’s why the passing of Vincent Lecavalier’s time with the Tampa Bay Lightning gives us pause to consider that -- business or not -- there is a lot of humanity that goes into a relationship like the one forged between Lecavalier and the Tampa community.
After 1,037 regular-season and 63 postseason games, including a memorable night in June 2004 when Lecavalier raised the Stanley Cup over his head in front of a delirious and jam-packed arena in Tampa, it is over.
The Lightning announced Thursday that they will use a compliance buyout to get out from under the remaining seven years and $45 million owed on Lecavalier’s contract, making him a free agent July 5.
This isn’t a lament for Lecavalier, who will receive two-thirds of the money owed him spread out over the next 14 years. (An $8 million signing bonus will have to be paid in full, our Pierre LeBrun reported Thursday.) But in the excitement of where players like Lecavalier or Philadelphia Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov will land, or whether longtime Lecavalier pal Brad Richards will be bought out by the New York Rangers, we note the end of something more than just a guy playing hockey in a city.
On almost every level, Lecavalier embodied the trials and tribulations of the Lightning as the franchise clawed its way from curiosity to laughingstock to champion.
The Lightning selected Lecavalier first overall in 1998, and owner Art Williams ill-advisedly proclaimed Lecavalier would become the Michael Jordan of hockey. Against such unrealistic expectations, Lecavalier was named captain after his second season -- a designation that likely came two years too early. That designation was removed before the 2001-02 season, and clashes with then-coach John Tortorella led to much speculation that Lecavalier would be traded.
Former GM Rick Dudley had several deals in the works to move Lecavalier, but ownership would not sign off. We recall talking to Dudley successor Jay Feaster, who said he wouldn’t go down in history as the guy who traded a player of Lecavalier’s caliber.
Feaster’s faith was rewarded when the team began to jell in 2003, making the playoffs after missing out the previous six seasons and defeating the Washington Capitals before falling to the New Jersey Devils in the second round. The Lightning roared through the Eastern Conference the following season, defeating the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and -- in a classic seven-game tilt -- the Flyers before nipping the Calgary Flames in another hard-fought seven-game set.
It was during the finals against Calgary that Lecavalier famously fought with his counterpart, Flames captain Jarome Iginla. Lecavalier would later assist on the Cup-winning goal in Game 7.
Although the Lightning could not recall that magic in subsequent years, struggling through a disastrous ownership change after the 2004-05 lockout and many ups and downs on the ice, Lecavalier remained a larger-than-life figure in a community he came to call home.
• In 2007, Lecavalier pledged $3 million to build the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorder Center at All Children’s Hospital. The 28,000-square-foot facility opened in January 2010.
• In 2008, he was named winner of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his charitable and humanitarian work.
• In the same year, he earned an NHL Foundation Award for community enrichment.
• He was honored in 2009 with an award of excellence by the local Ronald McDonald House, and in 2011, he was honored by the local Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
• Last season, he was named a Lightning community hero as part of a program introduced by owner Jeff Vinik and his wife to honor local community leaders. Lecavalier will be honored at a Lightning game next season for his work in the Tampa area.
Tom Doyle works with Clear Channel Radio in Tampa and has a long connection with the team and its charitable works. He recalls meeting Lecavalier shortly after the player was drafted and watching him grow into a leader, both with the team and in the community.
“He’s the epitome of what we want in our athletes,” Doyle, the father of three daughters who are rabid Lightning fans, told ESPN.com on Thursday morning.
Doyle said Lecavalier’s involvement in the community vis-a-vis pro athletes is “unparalleled.”
“There’s going to be a big hole to fill, and it’s a sad day for all of us,” he said. “It sucks.”
Still, one can hardly fault Lightning GM Steve Yzerman for making this call.
Outside of a surprise run to the East finals in 2011, the Lightning have not won a playoff series since 2004 and have missed the playoffs five times since their Cup win. Lecavalier has endured a number of injuries, most notably shoulder and wrist issues, and his production has fluctuated as a result. Yet he remains a consistent 20-goal scorer, and when healthy, he is a nearly point-a-game producer.
But as Lecavalier walks away from his familiar No. 4 jersey in Tampa, it is important to note that his legacy will remain, not just as the man who first hoisted the Stanley Cup in this town, cementing hockey as a part of the local sporting fabric, but also as a man who made a lasting impression on the community in many ways, ways that will not be forgotten even as he dons a new and unfamiliar jersey next fall.
Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards await word on their respective situations as the compliance buyout window opens Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET.
Any player bought out during this window would see his cap hit completely wiped clean. It’s a transition measure in the new collective bargaining agreement for this summer and next summer only, and only two buyouts per team are allowed.
Lecavalier, 33, still has seven years left on his deal, which carries a $7.73 million annual cap hit for Tampa. Richards, also 33, also has seven years left on his deal with the Rangers at a $6.67 million annual cap hit.
The decision that faces both the Rangers and Lightning: If they don’t use the compliance buyout provision before the end of July 4, do they risk either player getting injured next season and not be able to buy him out next summer?
The other factor to consider is the "recapture" rule in the new CBA, which hammers teams with cap charges on players with these types of front-loaded contracts if they retire before the end of the deal.
Neither player's camp had heard officially either way as of Wednesday afternoon, with Pat Morris of Newport Sports telling ESPN.com he had yet to get a definite answer from the Rangers. In a text, Richards told ESPNNewYork.com's Katie Strang at 9 p.m. ET that he had not heard from the Rangers. Ditto for Lecavalier’s agent, Kent Hughes, who nevertheless understands the situation Tampa is in.
"We understand that the contract is a difficult one in a declining environment and potentially difficult with rule changes that have been instituted in the new CBA, and we understand that Tampa has the right to extricate itself from that contract through the amnesty buyout provision," Hughes told ESPN.com. "We’ve had a conversation, but we haven’t been told one way or another that they intend to do so. We expect that if they are going to, we’ll know in the very, very near future."
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly sent out a memo Monday morning to all 30 teams warning them to play it by the book regarding buyouts and trades. The N.Y. Post this week reported that Tampa and Toronto had talked about a potential Lecavalier deal in which the Leafs would get another asset in exchange for using its financial muscle to absorb the buyout on Lecavalier, which then in turn could re-sign in Tampa at a cheaper rate after he becomes a free agent (players who are bought out can't rejoin their own teams for a year). The Leafs deny the report. Daly's memo specifically warned clubs that the trade/buyout/reacquire scenario would be deemed a circumvention of the CBA.
Looking to move Miller?Ryan Miller's future remains up in the air. Will he be a Sabre next season or be dealt elsewhere?
He has one year left on his deal at $6.25 million, which suggests this is the summer when Buffalo has to fish or cut bait with him. If it's going to deal him, it'll get more now than at the trade deadline next season.
Miller told ESPN.com via email Wednesday that he did not know what was going on and was just focused on what he could control.
"I just have to prepare myself to be a starting goalie and an Olympian," Miller said. "I want to challenge myself to raise my game back to the highest level. Everything else is out of my control."
Paging Tim ThomasRay Emery, an unrestricted free agent on July 5, is a name that surfaced among Philadelphia media speculating on what the Flyers might do to sign a goalie to share the crease with Steve Mason now that they’ve decided to buy out Ilya Bryzgalov.
Emery, should he not re-sign in Chicago, would certainly make sense given his past relationship with Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, and a source confirmed Wednesday that Emery is among the names on Holmgren’s radar. Emery’s agent, J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, was expected to touch base with the Blackhawks over the next day or so to figure out what their intentions are for the veteran goalie, who was terrific in forming a one-two punch with Corey Crawford this season.
Meanwhile, another name that was thrown out Tuesday by some Philly scribes was that of Tim Thomas. The polarizing 39-year-old becomes a UFA on July 5 after skipping out on the final year of his deal with Boston. (His rights were dealt to the Islanders last season.)
The question is, what are Thomas’ intentions?
"Until I hear otherwise, he’s status quo," Thomas’ agent Bill Zito said Wednesday.
Which means he remains undecided, although clearly he’s going to need to decide soon if he intends to come back since goalie jobs will be scarce in a matter of weeks.
Here’s hoping Thomas returns -- how could that not be fun?
Bobrovsky looking for deal
Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky remains unsigned by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Ongoing talks between the goalie’s agent Paul Theofanous and the club have not closed the gap yet.
"I’m supposed to meet with Theofanous today, but there’s nothing new to report right now," Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen told ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon. "It’s a work in progress. We’re hoping to get it done."
Adding to the challenge for Kekalainen is that Bobrovsky reportedly has a lucrative offer on the table from the KHL’s St. Petersburg SKA club, which is owned by KHL president Alexander Medvedev. Not that Kekalainen is trying to compete with that offer.
"It’s a rich company that sponsors SKA, and Medvedev is a powerful man," Kekalainen said. "And I respect their league and their process there. But we don’t negotiate against the KHL. We based our negotiations on the comparables in the NHL."
This and that
• The Kings and pending UFA blueliner Rob Scuderi continue to talk, but there's still no deal at this point. "Talks are ongoing prior to July 5, and no final decision has been made," Scuderi’s agent Steve Bartlett said Wednesday. "The Kings have shown strong interest in having him return."
• Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and David Clarkson’s agent Pat Morris of Newport Sports chatted Tuesday, although no offers were exchanged.
• Jonathan Bernier’s agent, Pat Brisson of CAA Sports, says he expects to talk contract with the Maple Leafs at the draft this weekend.
• Contract talks are also underway between Matt Cooke's camp, led by Pat Morris, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
- Daniel Alfredsson expects to be locked out for a “period of time,” but he still fully supports the NHLPA. “Even if this would turn out to be a whole season and I wouldn’t play again, that’s fine with me. I’m just a small piece of the puzzle. But I’d love to play again.” (Ottawa Citizen)
- The Ducks’ Sheldon Souray, going through his third work stoppage, said it would “be utter stupidity and craziness to lose another full season. … Guys are going to lose careers over this. Players are doing what’s right and we feel that for sure. We have a vision and we’re prepared to stick with it.” (Montreal Gazette)
- Olli Jokinen said he honestly was never optimistic the season would start on time and doesn’t think there are many players who were. “If we miss one game this season, I think it’s a shame, with what the players went through, what the fans went through and what the owners went through seven years ago with missing the whole year,” Jokinen said. (Winnipeg Free Press)
- Vincent Lecavalier is getting frustrated by the lockout. “The numbers are showing the league is healthy and since 2004 the league has been better and better each year. There is no reason, I think, that they should put us in a lockout.” (The Tampa Tribune)
- The Flames’ Jiri Hudler was released by the KHL’s Lev Prague to rehab an abdominal muscle injury. (The Calgary Herald)
- Tomas Plekanec has scored seven goals and assisted on seven more in just seven games with the HC Kladno Knights. (Montreal Gazette)
- Ilya Kovalchuk scored his first goal for SKA St. Pertersburg on Wednesday in his team’s 3-2 shootout victory over HC Neftekhimik. (The Star-Ledger)
- A small group remains practicing in South Florida, paying $350 an hour to rent the ice at the Panthers’ facility. (Miami Herald)
- Several financial planners said most players learned from history to prepare early for a potential lockout and are in much better financial condition to survive a prolonged time without a pay check. (The Globe and Mail)
- Some locked-out players from the Vancouver Canucks will play the UBC Thunderbirds in a charity game. (The Vancouver Sun)
- Jason Jaffray was cleared for full contact by doctors after going through spinal fusion neck surgery on April 18 after taking a check-from-behind in a game in late March. (Winnipeg Sun)
- Leland Irving spent the summer sharing goaltending duties with Carey Price and James Reimer, while facing Jarome Iginla, Shea Weber, Josh Gorges and Cody Franson – a group that made the hour commute well worth it, according to the young goalie. (The Calgary Herald)
"We don't want people getting injured," Yzerman told The St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday. "We want to keep their eyesight and noses in place, so it's something we would like to push moving forward."
Lecavalier returned to the lineup Tuesday night and wore a visor against Buffalo. He was accidentally high-sticked by Chicago's Michael Frolik early in the second period of Tampa Bay's 2-0 win Sunday. He needed three stitches to close the cut over his eye and had trouble seeing. He also scratched and bruised his cornea, but there was no structural damage.
You can read more on Yzerman's comments here (via St. Petersburg Times).
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils: It goes without saying this hasn’t been a banner season for the greatest goaltender of all time or the New Jersey Devils, but the Martin Brodeur we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks is certainly more familiar to fans. Brodeur was at it again Thursday night, as he collected his 114th career shutout and his fourth win in his past five starts in a 2-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Brodeur turned aside all 23 shots and was especially heroic in the third period, when the Devils were outshot 10-3. The Devils are 4-0-1 over this recent span and playing their best hockey of what has been a lost season.
Darren Helm, Detroit Red Wings: As usual, Detroit has found a way to win despite its injury-depleted roster. Helm has seen his opportunities increase and has taken full advantage. The Winnipeg native has 11 points in his past 11 games, including the overtime winner Thursday night against St. Louis, and has four multi-point games over that period. The Red Wings continue to hang around the top of the Western Conference standings despite of missing key personnel (Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Cleary, Brad Stuart and Chris Osgood).
Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning: After being held scoreless in the Lightning’s 3-2 shootout win versus Atlanta on Thursday, Lecavalier has managed just one goal in his past 11 outings. Lecavalier has eight goals on the season and is on pace for his worst goal production since his rookie season in 1998-99. Lecavalier did miss some time earlier this season with a hand injury, but his struggles highlight the burden being carried by Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. The Lightning continue to hold down top spot in the Southeast Division, but it’s hard to imagine a long playoff run without Lecavalier contributing at a more significant level.
Nikolay Zherdev, Philadelphia Flyers: As the NHL ploughs into the second half of the regular season, you have to figure the Zherdev experiment is pretty much a flop. Maybe it doesn’t matter when you’re as good as the Flyers are? The gifted Russian has scored just once in his past nine games and saw his ice time diminish during Thursday’s 6-2 thrashing of the Ottawa Senators (he ended up playing some on the fourth line). Ostensibly signed to replace veteran Simon Gagne, who is enduring his own struggles in Tampa, Zherdev has 14 goals; but his streaky play makes it difficult to imagine him having much of an impact come playoff time.
When I wrote back in September that I thought the Tampa Bay Lightning would make the playoffs this season, I was thinking they would be battling for the seventh or eighth spot in the East. Tied for the most points in the conference with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh heading into a big game against the Penguins on Wednesday night? Not sure anyone saw that one coming.
"It's pretty good, but it's a long season," Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier told ESPN.com on Tuesday night after his team's 1-0 overtime win at Washington. "A team like us, we're never going to give up. We're a hard-working team. We play well together. Everyone is contributing, everyone has a role on the team, and I think that's why we're having a lot of success right now."
I watched Tampa's thrilling win Tuesday night, a victory that gave the Bolts a one-point lead in the Southeast Division. Netminder Dwayne Roloson was easily the first star with a shutout in his first start with the Lightning, but the best skater on the Tampa side was No. 4. It was vintage Lecavalier out there Tuesday night; he was flying. He led all Tampa forwards with 20:42 of ice time, the most since his mid-December return.
Best you've felt in a while, Vinny?
"Yeah, since I've come back from injury, I've been feeling really good," said Lecavalier, who has eight points (4-4) in nine games since his Dec. 15 return after missing a month with a hand injury. "I think it definitely helps that my teammates are playing so well and it's easier to step into a lineup like that. It really brings you up."
Now that GM Steve Yzerman has added his goalie in Roloson and added depth on defense with power-play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron (should he clear waivers), the last piece to fall into place for this team is for Lecavalier to play like the Lecavalier of old. If he can continue his current play, the Bolts can throw out two dangerous forward lines and take the pressure off Steven Stamkos to be superman every night on the top line. On Tuesday night, the Bolts would not have won without Lecavalier taking charge.
He's only 30, but four years removed from a career-high 108-point campaign in 2006-07 that had many of us believing he was one of the very best centers in the world. Injuries and distractions from former owners talking about trading him, not to mention his team stinking out the joint for a few seasons, brought Lecavalier's play down a peg.
He's in the second season of an 11-year, $85 million deal, which comes with a $7.72 million cap hit and a salary that's $10 million a year through 2015-16. Lecavalier seems hungry to earn that salary now.
"I just think we have a really good thing going on here," Lecavalier said. "The last three years were really tough. I wasn't happy at the end of last year. You're never happy when things don't go well and you're not winning. So of course I want to prove myself. I know I can help this team and I've been trying to do that."
On Tuesday night, Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher reunited Lecavalier with old pal Martin St. Louis on a line with Simon Gagne midway through second period. St. Louis has been Stamkos' linemate almost exclusively for almost three seasons, but Boucher switched things up and the Lecavalier/St. Louis connection meshed like it was 2003-04.
"I had barely played at all with him this year, but he put us back together in the second period," said Lecavalier. "You never lose it. Right from the first shift, we knew where each other was on the ice. It's like riding a bike when you play with Marty. We were clicking and we're still clicking. If I have an opportunity to play with him again, I would love that."
Interesting to hear the talk about the rising Lightning entering this week. A big test Tuesday at Washington (passed), and another one Wednesday in Pittsburgh. For Lecavalier and St. Louis, they went through all this in their younger years as the Bolts rose up the ranks to become Stanley Cup champions in 2004. Now, they're re-living the trip of a rebuilt team on the rise.
"It's a totally different team," said Lecavalier, distancing this team from the 2004 club. "But you can see the camaraderie that we have here. I've never had a team where everyone gets along so well. It's just a lot of fun. We had three miserable years, finishing last or second-to-last, now it's just so much fun. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We have to stay on an even keel here. We have to keep playing the way we can, and if we do, I believe we can have a lot of success."
Bring on the Pens.