It was about 8:30 Thursday morning, and Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier had just sat down with his family in their Montreal home to a breakfast of eggs and fruit.
Then his phone rang. It was general manager Steve Yzerman, and Lecavalier pretty much lost his appetite.
Tampa Bay is buying out the final seven years of your contract, Yzerman told the player.
"Just the feeling inside," Lecavalier said of his reaction. "When you get that phone call and you're told you're not playing for the Lightning, it was pretty rough on everybody."
The move wasn't unexpected. With $45 million left on his contract and an annual $7.727 million salary cap hit, Lecavalier's deal was a much talked-about liability for a team needing cap relief. But that didn't make the buyout any less dramatic.
For one, the announcement came 15 years to the day in 1998 Tampa Bay drafted Lecavalier No. 1 overall. For another, Yzerman admitted the team, which has missed the playoffs the past two seasons, could be worse in the short term as it tries to overcome the loss of a productive No. 2 center.
"Ideally, we have the solution. We have a replacement. We don't have that player today," Yzerman said. "But if we're going to be serious about change, this is something we had to look at doing."
But change can be difficult.
Lecavalier, 33, is a Tampa Bay icon. He holds franchise records with 1,037 games, 383 goals, 60 winners and 112 on the power play. He was Tampa Bay's first 50-goal scorer.
His Game 3 fight with the Flames' Jarome Iginla during the 2004 Stanley Cup final still is celebrated as is the $3 million commitment he made in 2007 through his charitable foundation to help establish the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.
That said, Tampa Bay had more than $60 million in salary cap commitments for next season and as many as five roster spots to fill. With the salary cap plunging to $64.3 million from $70.2 million, Yzerman was desperate to create space.
He also wanted to be free of Lecavalier's 11-year, $85 million front-loaded deal that was fashioned by the team's previous ownership and management groups and would cost Tampa Bay significant salary cap penalties if the center retired before its 2020 expiration.
That is why Lecavalier said he understands Tampa Bay's use of one of the two compliance buyouts that are available to all teams under the new collective bargaining agreement and do not count against the salary cap.
"I'm not angry," Lecavalier said. "I understand the business side of it, how things change in the new CBA that can make teams have to make decisions."
He gets a nice payoff, too, $32.667 million, which is two-thirds of the $37 million left on his contract ($24.667 million), plus $8 million he still is owed in signing bonuses.
That's a lot of money to pay someone not to play.
In addition, he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 5, free to sign with any team except the Lightning.
"We don't make these decisions lightly," Yzerman said. "This is something we need to do in light of what we're trying to do with our players, future contracts, our ability to improve the club and get to where we need to go."
• • •
It might not be a quick process, despite the $54 million in cap space Lecavalier's buyout creates over the next seven years. Even with about $10.1 million in cap space for next season, according to capgeek.com, Yzerman said there is no guarantee the team will improve, especially if it can't adequately find a No. 2 center.
Yzerman said all options are open — trades, free agency and Sunday's draft, for which he holds the No. 3 overall pick — and speculation already has started the Lightning might be interested in Brad Richards, if he is bought out by the Rangers, and potential free agents Tyler Bozak (Toronto) and Valterri Filppula (Detroit).
One thing Yzerman said he will not do this summer is use his second compliance buyout, which some expected might be used on left wing Ryan Malone.
"We'll see what happens next year," Yzerman said, "but for this year, there's no plan of using that."
All of which leads to the question of why buy out Lecavalier this year, especially with compliance buyouts also available after next season and with Lecavalier, who had 10 goals and 32 points in 39 games and won 54.4 percent of his faceoffs, still a productive player?
In short, Tampa Bay did not want to risk a Lecavalier injury that would prevent it from executing a buyout.
"We feel it was inevitable moving forward," Yzerman said of buying out Lecavalier.
"If we're going to take a step backwards, let's take a step backwards today, and now we can start the process of going forward and continue reorganizing and rebuilding this team."
As for selling the fans on a team that might be facing another difficult season, Yzerman said, "We finished 28th (in the league last season). We just can't continue going along with the same core. We don't have cap space to do anything to really improve the team. We had two choices, really: create some space and give ourselves the flexibility to look at other options or just sit tight and just keep going along as we are.
"This is a huge financial commitment on his part," Yzerman said of owner Jeff Vinik. "I appreciate his willingness to agree to take this course of action."
• • •
Losing Lecavalier as a teammate is "definitely a weird feeling," said wing Marty St. Louis, who is the last remaining Lightning player from the 2004 Stanley Cup team. "It's just going to be weird picturing Vinny on another team."
Said Nate Thompson, who sat next to Lecavalier in the Tampa Bay Times Forum locker room: "To look to my right and not see Vinny Lecavalier, it will be pretty strange. Just his presence in the locker room, on the ice, it's going to be an adjustment. Whoever gets him, they're going to get a great hockey player and even better guy."
Where will Lecavalier end up? It's too early to tell, though he said he is looking for a long-term deal, which would make an eventual return to Tampa Bay difficult.
"We're going to sit down and have conversations and start looking through the various teams, depth charts, possible needs, fits," said Kent Hughes, Lecavalier's agent. "He's got a young family. He has to go through what's first, hockey-wise, lifestyle-wise, and everything else and make a decision."
"Even the thought of wearing a different kind of jersey is weird in my head," Lecavalier said.
But the transition, aided Thursday by conversations with St. Louis, Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer, and friend and former Canadiens player Patrice Brisebois, has started.
"You have to take the positives," Lecavalier said they told him. "You have no choice. You get to be in a different city. You get to experience more."
"I'm so motivated to go somewhere else and prove I can play at a high level," he added. "I believe in myself and what I bring to a team. I want to win."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.
Vinny Lecavalier's stats during his 14 seasons, with where he ranks in franchise history:
Games 1,037 First
Goals 383 First
Power-play goals 112 First
Shorthanded goals 13 Third
Winning goals 60 First *
Assists 491 Second
Points 874 Second
Penalty minutes 746 Third
* Tied for first
. Fast facts
Biggest buyouts in NHL history
With the length of years (twice what's left on the contract) and amount of salary (two-thirds of what's left on the contract plus remaining signing bonus):
Name Pos. Team Year Length Amount
Vinny Lecavalier Center Lightning2013 14 years $32.7 million
Ilya Bryzgalov Goalie Flyers2013 14 years $23 million
Alexei Yashin Center Islanders2007 8 years $17.6 million
Vinny Prospal Center Lightning 2009 6 years $7 million
Darcy Tucker Wing Maple Leafs 2008 6 years $6 million