Thursday, September 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: Lightning should trade Lecavalier

The rumor typically begins up north, usually in Montreal, then makes its way to Toronto.

Someone floats the idea in a newspaper. Then a radio show picks it up, and pretty soon it's all over the Internet. The rumor always includes these three words:

"Vinny'' and "Lecavalier'' and "trade.''

When the Lightning stumbles or Lecavalier struggles, it isn't long before someone at least wonders if Lecavalier should be traded.

Today I'll play the part of "someone.''

I'll even go a step further.

It's not only time to think about trading Lecavalier.

It's time to do it.

Shop him around, find interested takers, ask for the world, swallow hard and pull the trigger on the best deal you can get.

Look, no one around here wants to see Lecavalier traded. He's the captain, the face of the franchise and a staple in the community. When you're ranking the best athletes in Tampa Bay sports history, he's near the top. When you're ranking the best people in Tampa Bay history, he might be at the top.

He has given everything he has to this organization on and off the ice. His work ethic, dedication and competitiveness have never been in question. Even in the worst of times, Lecavalier has never shown the desire to abandon this ship. He could have left here a couple of times but always showed loyalty to his adopted hometown. The Tampa Bay area is a better place because of him.

And just to be clear, this in no way suggests Lecavalier is to blame for the Lightning's troubles.

But as Michael Corleone would say, this isn't personal. This is strictly business.

Here's the deal: This Lightning season isn't going exactly as planned, especially after its red-hot start. Right now it's hard to imagine the Lightning even in the playoffs, let alone doing damage if it gets there.

When a team is scuffling, when the season is swirling down the drain and there seems to be little hope, it has three choices.

Do nothing

If one had to guess, the Lightning isn't going to do anything major the rest of this season. It's not going to fire coach Guy Boucher. It's not going to make any major trades. General manager Steve Yzerman thinks it's prudent to stand pat, hope things improve and make evaluations after the season instead of overreacting to a 20-game stretch that only seems longer because of the lockout-shortened schedule.

Change the coach

It's completely fair to look at Boucher. Though no one can be happy with that putrid first period the Lightning played Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, that was one of the few times the entire team looked unmotivated and unprepared. Motivation and preparation are on the coach. Most nights, however, the effort is there. As long as the players try and seem to have a clue, it's tough to blame a coach.

Change the players

And when I say change the players, I mean Lecavalier, because he is the only player on the roster who is a legitimate trade candidate.

Steven Stamkos is untouchable. Marty St. Louis, 37, is too old. Ryan Malone is too injury-prone, and Teddy Purcell is too inconsistent to attract much interest. The Lightning doesn't have enough depth to deal one of its better defensemen. It could deal a fourth-liner or a second-tier defenseman, but what would that get it in return?

That pretty much leaves Lecavalier, who turns 33 in April and would have to waive a no-trade clause. The Lightning would love to shed his contract, which still has seven years remaining with an annual cap hit of $7.72 million. Frankly, that's also the reason he is difficult — and maybe even impossible — to trade.

Then again, if you're ever going to get someone to bite on Lecavalier during a season, it's this one. Practically every team is in the hunt and might believe Lecavalier will put it over the top. The guy can still play at a high level.

The Lecavalier-to-Montreal rumors have swirled for years, but this season they actually make sense. The Canadiens are surprisingly at the top of the Eastern Conference entering today, have salary cap wiggle room and might do anything to win a Cup for the first time in 20 years. Lecavalier would make them a serious contender.

Maybe the Lightning could snooker another team desperate to win it all. What should it want in return? Promising young players to build around Stamkos and Victor Hedman. The extra money saved from dumping Lecavalier's contract could be used to bring in a free agent or two. Essentially, it could turn Lecavalier into several players with good upsides.

Would it be risky? You bet. Would it make the Lightning better immediately? No, the opposite. Would it make it better down the line? That's the idea. Perhaps by the time Anders Lindback is ready to be a solid No. 1 goalie, the rest of the team would be shaping up nicely around a still-in-his-prime Stamkos.

All this means forgetting the present and looking to the future. That's fine, because the present isn't working.

You can try to talk yourself into believing the Lightning is a pretty good team that's just in a slump, but you would be kidding yourself. You can say all it has to do is sneak into the playoffs and anything can happen. You know who says that? Mediocre teams.

If the Lightning wants to someday add a second Stanley Cup to the trophy case, it needs to make a significant change. Trading Lecavalier would be pretty significant. And as heart-wrenching as it sounds, it's also necessary.

Tom Jones can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

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