Contracts, and how to manage them, a looming discussion for Tampa Bay Lightning
As we read in today's paper, Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny Lecavalier said, and general manager Steve Yzerman seemed to agree, that Lecavalier was assured at a recent meeting he is part of the team's immediate plan.
"I'm not going to go out and start shopping Vinny Lecavalier," Yzerman said.
Said Lecavalier: "After the meeting, I was very happy."
There is no reason to doubt what either of them said. Add that Lecavalier's contract has a no-trade clause he seems willing to enforce, and the likelihood he will be with the team next season is a fairly safe bet. Given the trade rumors and distracting uncertainty Lecavalier endured the past two seasons, no wonder he was happy.
That said, Yzerman's most interesting comment was one that indicated what might be coming in the Lightning's future: an evaluation of all players, especially those under long-term deals, their performance and how they fit into the team's long-term plan. Yzerman stressed that evaluation "isn't all about Vinny," and added, "Every player is going to have a certain expectation. And if players aren't living up to that, then we've got to say, " 'Okay, what do we do at that point?' "
This is what Tampa Bay faces: Not including the 10 years and $75 million left on Lecavalier's contract, it is committed to another $70.3 million in long-term deals and buyouts. Add that Steven Stamkos is expected to sign a rich contract extension to start in 2011-12, and defenseman Victor Hedman will get a substantial salary boost in 2012-13, the team may have some tough decisions to make.
Lecavalier, coming off two disappointing seasons, and his contract, will be evaluated in that context. But he shouldn't be the only one.
Defenseman Andrej Meszaros, owed $18.5 million the next four years, has been a woeful underachiever. Left wing Ryan Malone, owed $19.5 million the next five years, produced close to nothing the second half of last season. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund, owed $21.25 million the next six years, had injury issues much of last season and showed flashes here and there but admittedly has to work on getting quicker. And defenseman Matt Walker, owed $5.525 million the next three seasons, simply has to pick up his game.
The Lightning could have used a lot more help from a lot of other players last season. But these are the team's largest commitments, and whether we like it or not, in a cap world, money matters, as does value for that money. It matters in decisions on signing free agents, trades and whether team's can make commitments to their young players.
So believe Yzerman when he says of next season, he will be watching.