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Vinny is not untouchable



We'll have a bigger story on this in Tuesday's paper but, since it's Vinny, figured the debate was never too early to start.

It is difficult to tell whatwill happen with Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier. On one hand, it almost is unthinkable the superstar center could be traded, on the other hand, with Tampa Bay struggling as it has, isn't it incumbent on the team brass to explore all options as it tries to retool?

That, it seems, is where we are with Lecavalier. GM Brian Lawton, in his first public comments on the subject, since so much speculation came to a head, said the Lightning is not shopping Lecavalier. But he also said as the team evaluates its needs going forward, "There are no players who are untouchable."

"And that has nothing to do with Vinny Lecavalier," Lawton said before Monday night's game with the Kings in Los Angeles. "That has to do with the status of any team I'm managing. It has to do with our macro goal of being committed to winning, being committed to giving our fans a winner. No player supersedes the goals of any team I'm working on."

Lawton said the process is the same one performed by every NHL team.

"The clarity for me is unless a team is performing at a championship level, there are no players who are untouchable," he said. "We're looking at every player on our team, all the time until we win a Stanley Cup."

In case you are wondering, Lecavalier's new 11-year, $85-million contract extension has a no-move clause. But the contract and the clause do not kick in until July 1.

The rumor mill certainly has been churning lately, and it got a big boost from the news last week that Lightning brass mete in New York with league officials and Tom Wilson, CEO of former owner Palace Sports & Entertainment, to restructure the $70-million finance agreement with Palace Sports on the $200-million sale of the team.

Lawton admitted the drooping economy has had an effect on the team's finances.

"No different than most of the businesses around the world right now," he said. "We are not recession proof. Are we going out of business? Can we meet our payroll? Has coach (Rick) Tocchet been paid? All these ludicrous things I've heard are totally false. ... That is the root of where this discussion is coming from. People are saying, 'Well, they're going out of business. They're going to have to trade their expensive players and they're starting with their most expensive player."

Lawton said if he were shopping Lecavalier, he would tell him face to face to make him part of the process. Lawton said that hasn't happened, and Lecavalier confirmed Monday he has not been approached.

So, here is what I think is happening. Teams, sensing an opening, are no doubt calling. The Lightning is listening, and it is safe to assume there have been internal discussions as to whether the team, long-term, would be better off with Lecavalier or the assets he would bring in a deal.

In the meantime, the rumor mill will churn. Canada's TSN already has a trade mapped out having to do with the Canadiens, though it does not include shut-down defenseman Mike Komisarek, who, logic says, would have to be included in any deal of this magnitude.

If Lecavalier thinks the rumors and speculation are bad now, wait till the Montreal native goes home for the Jan. 25 All-Star Game. As he said Monday, "I'm just glad we're in California and not Canada. I haven't even looked at the Internet."

As for the game, defenseman Matt Smaby sitting out (lower body) was a game-time decision as was the decision to sit defenseman Steve Eminger (upper body). Vladimir Mihalik, up from AHL Norfolk, gets in the lineup, but Tampa Bay goes with just five defensemen. ... Jussi Jokinen also was scratched. ... No morning skate today but coach Rick Tocchet said Matt Pettinger, a good skater and responsibe defensively, will start on a line with Lecavalier and Vinny Prospal. ... Marty St. Louis is with center Jeff Halpern and Ryan Malone, the line that wa so good Friday against the Ducks.

[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:38pm]


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