As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Only in this case, it's a great thing.
During his 14 seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vincent Lecavalier has been a champion both on and off the ice. His image has become synonymous with the franchise during both the good and the bad times. Lecavalier is the Lightning's all-time leader in pretty much everything, including games played (1,037), goals (383), power play goals (112) and game-winning goals (60).
He helped lead the team to the mountain-top in 2004 when the Bolts earned their first Stanley Cup. No one will ever forget his trading punches with Jarome Iginla during the Stanley Cup Final; emblematic of the sacrifices he has made for the team on the ice and the contributions made to the Tampa Bay community off of it. Lecavalier has given much of his time and money through the Vinny Lecavalier Foundation, even building a pediatric cancer and blood disorder center at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg that bears his name. He has been a fixture at local hospitals and charity events, earning the King Clancy Memorial Trophy and the NHL Foundation Award from the National Hockey League for his efforts.
For all of those reasons, it is nearly impossible to look at the compliance buy-out of Lecavalier and not see it for what it is, a business decision intended to provide much-needed flexibility for the Lightning under the constraints of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). After all, that is why two "compliance buyouts" were allowed for in this new era in the first place and why this decision, while no doubt an unbelievably tough one, was necessary.
"The decision to part ways with Vinny was not made easily," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "After much internal consideration we believe this will prove to be a pivotal move for us as we strive to achieve our long term goal of competing at the highest level, year-in and year-out."
No one will ever take away what Vinny has done for the Lightning or the Tampa Bay community, but if you step back and look at the situation through the eyes of an accountant or economist the reasoning is clear. The Lightning will immediately save nearly $7.7 million in salary cap space each season, more than $50 million over the course of the next seven seasons for which he was still signed.
"The cap hit created by Vinny's contract is proving to be prohibitive as we model our roster possibilities for 2013-14 and beyond," Yzerman said. "The economics and structure of the new collective bargaining agreement are necessitating this decision."
The buy-out of Lecavalier is not an indictment of his ability on the ice or what he means to the community, but more about the contract itself. Media members and fans continually talk about the Lightning's need for additional depth, specifically at forward, but that is hard to find when such a large chunk of the salary cap "pie" is being consumed by one contract.
Take a look at the two teams in this year's recently completed Stanley Cup Final: not one player in the series hit the $7 million mark in salary according to the web site CapGeek.com. Boston's Zdeno Chara was the only one that came close at $6.92 million. The highest paid forwards in the series were Chicago's Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both at $6.3 million. Boston's highest-paid forward was David Krejci at $5.25 million. Yet it is not as though those teams did it on the cheap, Chicago was fifth and Boston was ninth on the list of league spending. The Lightning rank right behind Boston in the 10th position. That tells you two things: 1) the Lightning are not afraid to spend, and 2) Yzerman might not have had the cap flexibility he has needed.
Flexibility is what Yzerman and his team need in order to sustain the long-term success that has been the goal since taking over, and that Lightning fans expect each season. That doesn't mean they will just start lavishing money at every free agent available. In fact, Yzerman's history has been the exact opposite during his tenure at the Lightning, and with a number of players in the AHL practically breaking down the door, and the third overall pick in this year's draft, there are a number of options. That is what this buy-out has done. It has opened up a number more options for the team in 2013-14 and beyond.
Lecavalier's name will never be forgotten in Tampa Bay. His imprint will forever be cemented in the Bay Area's sports landscape. Just ask the pediatric cancer survivors and those still battling the horrible disease that have had their spirits lifted by Lecavalier or been treated at his center. Images of him raising the Stanley Cup at center ice will forever speak to his legacy and link him to the Lightning.
He joined the Tampa Bay community as an 18-year-old "hope" for an expansion hockey team in a non-traditional market and is leaving after cementing the franchise's future as a four-time All-Star, an NHL scoring champion, a Stanley Cup champion, a pillar of the community; a grown man with three beautiful children and a wonderful wife.
"Vinny will always be considered a part of the Tampa Bay Lightning family and his legacy will be celebrated at every opportunity," Yzerman said. "We acknowledge and thank him for his incredible accomplishments on and off the ice for the Lightning, our fans and the Tampa Bay community. He has been a significant reason for many of the team's successes and his contributions to the community have been immeasurable."
You have not seen the last of him. He will return as an opponent, as odd as that sounds, and he is expected to be honored as a Lightning Community Hero next season. And, hopefully he will return to the Tampa Bay community when his playing career is complete to carry on the "Lecavalier Legacy".
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