Vincent Lecavalier Buyout: The Correct Decision

The Tampa Bay Lightning have decided to use a compliance buyout on Vincent Lecavalier.

You read that correctly. Vincent Lecavalier has been bought out by the Lightning. Not often is something of this magnitude both completely logical and stunning at the same time.

“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.”

It is sometimes easy to forget the fact that running a team in the NHL is a business. In the business world, difficult decisions like these have to be made. For the long-term health of the franchise, this is the correct decision.

“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.”

On an emotional level, to say this decision stings is a massive understatement. Lecavalier’s accomplishments on the ice and in the community are well documented. Those accomplishments, especially in the community, can never be discussed enough.

The Vinny Lecavalier Foundation was created in 2003 to raise money for various charities, specifically the fight against pediatric cancer. In October 2007, having considered dozens of different charities and projects, Vinny with the support of Kane’s Furniture and DEX Imaging, Inc, announced the three million dollar pledge to build The Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorder Center at All Children’s Hospital. The 28,000 square foot center opened in January of 2010.

“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.”

On the ice, Lecavalier has had his share of ups and downs. He has been a part of terrible teams, won a Stanley Cup, suffered through injuries, taken home the Maurice Richard and King Clancy Memorial Trophies, and appeared in four NHL All-Star games.

The first overall pick of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, Lecavalier immediately hit NHL ice. He played all 82 games in his rookie season, recording 13 goals and 15 assists. While the team struggled to a league-worst 47 points (15-54-9), the tantalizing talent of Vinny was often on display.

His sophomore campaign would see him hit the 25 goal mark for the first time, a feat he has repeated another seven times in his not yet completed NHL career. The 2001-02 season saw him become the first player in franchise history to score at least 20 goals in three straight seasons. While the 37 points for Vinny, and 69 points for the Lightning, were disappointing, the following season would not be.

For the first time in the Lecavalier era, the Lightning made the playoffs in the 2002-03 season. Finishing the season with 93 points (36-25-16-5), the Lightning captured their first ever division championship. Vinny recorded a then career high 78 points (33 goals, 45 assists) in 80 regular season games. Returning to the playoffs for the first time since the 1995-96 season, the Lightning would face the Washington Capitals, who they beat out for the division title by a single point for home ice. The home team would lose all but once in a six game series that the Lightning claimed with a triple-overtime victory. The Lightning would lose in the second round four games to one to the New Jersey Devils, but they had arrived. Vinny finished with 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) in 11 playoff games.

The 2003-04 season would turn out to be one for the ages for the Lightning and Vinny. Tampa Bay finished the season with an Eastern Conference high 106 points (46-22-8-6). Lecavalier registered 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists) in 81 regular season contests. The Lightning would enjoy victories over the New York Islanders (four games to one), Montreal Canadiens (four games to none), Philadelphia Flyers (four games to three) and Calgary Flames (four games to three) en route to earning the franchise’s only Stanley Cup.

Lecavalier recorded 16 points (9 goals, 7 assists) in 23 playoff games. After failing to register a point in the opening series victory over the Islanders, Vinny exploded against Montreal in the second round. Helping the Lightning to a series sweep over the Canadiens, Vinny posted 7 points (5 goals, 2 assists) and a plus-four rating. A classic seven games series with Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference finals saw Lecavalier register 6 points (4 goals, 2 assists). All four goals came on the road.

The Stanley Cups Finals against the Calgary Flames would not be a point filled affair for Lecavalier, but was one filled with emotional heights. No one will forget Vinny and Calgary captain Jarome Iginla dropping the gloves in game three of the series, which the Flames would win 3-0. It took a Martin St. Louis goal in double-overtime in game six to return the series to Tampa for the decisive game seven, one that would see perhaps the defining play in Lecavalier’s NHL career.

With the Lightning clinging to a 1-0 lead in the second period, Lecavalier would win a face-off to the right of Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff with the help of eventual goal scorer Ruslan Fedotenko. Lecavalier buzzes below the goal line to pick up a pass from Cory Stillman. After spinning away from Steve Montador and brilliantly weaving through traffic with the puck, Vinny fired a pass to Fedotenko who snapped a shot off Kiprusoff and into the net to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead. They would hang onto win 2-1, and skate around home ice with the Stanley Cup.

Lecavalier has had other great achievements in a Lightning uniform, including a 52 goal season in 2006-07, but winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal for every player and franchise in the NHL. Fortunately the Lightning were able to accomplish this goal during Vinny’s time in Tampa. Perhaps more cup victories could have been achieved if not for a lockout, but getting a ring will never be forgotten.

Vinny will leave as franchise leader in games played (1,037) and goals (383). He is also second in franchise history in assists (491) and points (874), trailing Martin St. Louis in both categories.

While the Tampa Bay community will not lose Vinny forever, this is still a sad day for many. What Vinny has meant, both on and off the ice, to Tampa Bay can not be measured. On the ice, this creates a large hole at the center position, but one that can be filled. This is also adds more intrigue to Sunday’s draft, as Finnish center Aleksander Barkov becomes more of a possibility to be selected third overall.

This isn’t the end of the road for Vincent Leacavalier in the NHL. Lightning fans would no doubt like to see a return to Tampa during his playing career, something that seems a much better final chapter to the Lecavalier in Tampa Bay story than being bought out.

Emotions aside, this was something the franchise needed to do. Business aside, this was something the franchise never would consider. Alas, it is a business. The new CBA made this a decision that, while difficult, simply had to be made. The seven years that were remaining on Lecavalier’s contract, and roughly $7.7-million cap hit, were too much for this franchise to handle. There was too much risk, given his recent trouble with injury, that they would be attached for another seven years if he retired or continued to battle injuries. The correct decision is often not an easy one to make. Vinny will be missed, but the correct decision was made.