Tuesday, July 2, 2013

So The Lightning Had an Interesting Week

Lets all reflect on the biggest takeaway from the Lightning’s 2013 draft - Steve Yzerman did not draft a Russian.  He did take a Latvian, Kristers Gudlevskis, who plays in the Russian junior league so he came close. However, for the first time since 2010 the Bolts organization did not dip into the wealth of talent available from the Mother Land (and you know he was eying Valeri Nichushkin).

He also didn’t draft a defenseman even though Seth Jones was still sitting there when Mr. Yzerman went to the podium to announce the selection. Visions of Victor Hedman and Seth Jones terrorizing teams for the next 8 seasons had to be pretty tempting. That being said, Steven Stamkos taking one-timers from Jonathan Drouin isn’t something goalies are going to want to see anytime soon.

Perhaps this is an indication of a shift in organizational philosophy. Former Orioles GM Andy McPhail had a “grow the arms, buy the bats” philosophy to building a team. Perhaps Mr. Yzerman is instituting a “grow the goal scorers and buy the blueline” method.

(umm...yeah those three minutes made me feel A LOT better about this kid)

Of course, for the Lightning no matter who they drafted they would be overshadowed by the really, really big news - the severing of ties with captain Vincent Lecavalier.  On Thursday, owner Jeff Vinik bit the bullet and cut a large check to tell the all-time Lightning goal leader that his services were no longer welcome. According to ESPN, Lecavalier receives an $8 million payout in full and then two-thirds of his remaining contract ($24.67 million) spread out over 14 years. No matter what he does the Lightning will cut him a check for $1.76 million every year.  Not a bad deal.

So long shirtless Lecavalier.  May you bring page hits to bloggers for your new team

The good news for the Lightning is that they now have an extra $7 million and change of cap room to play with and they save about $50 million over the life of the contract. For the long term health of the franchise, that savings is nothing to sneeze at. Mr. Yzerman now has a little more flexibility to fill the holes in the roster that were evident even when Lecavalier was still lacing up the skates with Tampa Bay.

In all likelihood the bulk of any investment is going to go towards the defense.  Currently the team has 6 healthy defenders inked to contracts (Matt Carle, Hedman, Eric Brewer, Sami Salo, Radko Gudas and Keith Aulie).  It’s a solid if unremarkable group of blue liners that the fans would definitely like to see upgraded.  While the free agent market isn’t exactly overflowing with talent (Ryan Whitney, Toni Lydman, Brett Clark?) the Lightning do have depth to trade from.

The organization has already dipped into that well once using Cory Conacher as bait to bring in Ben Bishop to hopefully solve their goaltending woes.  With Jonathan Drouin and Adam Erne soon to be added to the fold that well is even deeper.  Brett Connolly seems to be the leading candidate to be moved as his size and tenacity are big draws for other teams (and because why not trade the last remaining player in my personal collection).

Next season is going to be a big one for Mr. Yzerman.  The team’s recent inability to win consistently has already cost Coach Boucher his job and if they struggle again it’s most likely the general manager’s head on the chopping block.  There is way too much talent on the roster for this team to be drafting in the top 10 every year.    He needs to find a way to get the team out of the funk they’ve been in the last two years and have them compete with Boston, Toronto, Montreal and the rest of their new division.

Another benefit from kicking Lecavalier to the curb is that Mr. Yzerman frees up money to retain his younger players in the future.  While the cap is undoubtedly going to rise after this year, he has a host of young talent that he needs to lock up long term. Players like Connolly, Alex Killorn, Richard Panik (not winning man of the year in Grand Rapids anytime soon), and Tyler Johnson are considered the next wave of impact players and none of them are signed past next season. While the Lightning retain control of the contracts and therefore negotiating power, it would be nice to lock them up for a few years down the road.

Lets not forget the Rocket Richard-sized elephant hiding in the corner.  Steven Stamkos is going to need a new contract after 2015-16.  While it’s a little early to start the Stammergeddon 2 Goal Scoring Boggaloo Watch it is something to consider. When it is time to re-sign him the Lightning will be looking at trying to retain one of the most prolific, post-lockout scorers in his athletic prime.  Good luck on getting a hometown discount!

The other side of the Lecavalier coin is where does he end up and how much do I care.  I’ve made no secret of the fact that he is my favorite player on the team and that my entire Lightning history is pretty much centered around his career. For those who are new to these parts, I started going to games the year before he was drafted.  So next season is going to be the first season I’ve watched the Lightning without Wizard for Ile Bizard on the roster (and yes I’m upset that that nickname never caught on). It’s going to be weird.

Even when he was hurt the last few seasons there was always the anticipation of his return and the impact that would have on the team. Now….nothing. No more dispute of whose line should St. Louis be on. No more quest to find the perfect winger for Lecavalier (Simon Gagne, Jussi Jokinen, Matthew Barnaby among a cast of thousands). No more complaining about his $10 million contract and 60 point production.  God, what are fans going to bitch about next season.  The goaltending? Oh ok, cool.  As long as they have something.

So back to his eventual destination.  It’s more that there are teams I DON’T want to see him on.  Namely, Boston, Toronto or Philadelphia.  Of course, all three teams have expressed interest (along with every other team in the league).  But it would seem so weird, almost dirty to see him in a Philly uniform.  Not quite as unholy as Jagr in Flyers’ orange, but still so, so weird. I hold out the hope that he signs a one-year deal and then ends up back in Tampa at a reduced rate.  Hey….a boy can dream, right?

It is funny to see all the love he’s getting now after years of being branded as overpaid and underachieving. Fans of other teams who have laughed at his contract (looking at you Toronto) are now talking themselves into signing him to a three or four year deal.

He should have no problem finding a place in the league.  He can still put up 20 goals and 50-60 points for a team when healthy.  Could Edmonton use him?  Most definitely, he’d be a great influence on a young team. As long as he stays away from Montreal he also has the advantage of lower expectations.  Wherever he goes no one is going to brand him the Michael Jordan of hockey before he has a chance to take the ice for them.

Will I keep collecting his cards - probably.  Unlike Crawford, Tokarski and soon to be Connolly, I have quite a bit invested in my Lecavalier collection.  Why stop now?  Besides it’s going to be so awesomely awkward to get that first card of him in a Blackhawk uniform.

The free agent frenzy begins in a few days and while it’s not likely that the Lightning will be big players, they have put themselves in position to find at least one impact player before training camps open in the fall.  Cutting Lecavalier was tough for management and tough for the fans, but in the end it makes the team better. As much as we love the names on the back of the uniforms, it’s the crest on the front that we really cheer for.


Captain Canuck said...

and to Philly he goes. 5 years, 22.5 million.

TheRealDFG said...

I just saw that. Son of a ...

And I thought Vinny and I had an understanding.