LOS ANGELES — Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier will not be untouchable as the March 4 trade deadline approaches.
But don't read too much into that, general manager Brian Lawton said. On a team fighting to stay out of the league cellar, "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 at the Staples Center. "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."
Still, simply acknowledging that Lecavalier, 28, the face of the franchise and recently voted in a Times poll the Tampa Bay area's most popular athlete, is not off limits is a show stopper.
It makes it reasonable to assume teams are inquiring — Montreal, anyone? — the Lightning is at least listening and internal discussions are taking place as to whether the team would be better off long-term with the superstar center or the windfall of assets he would bring in a deal.
At the very least it will reinforce a firestorm of speculation around the league that will intensify as the deadline approaches.
"I'm just glad we're in California and not Canada," Lecavalier joked.
"I haven't even looked at the Internet."
Lawton was adamant, though, Lecavalier is not being shopped.
"To suggest we're engaging in conversations to trade him or we're shopping him to all teams in the National Hockey League is completely inaccurate," he said. "It's false, egregious and it's abusive toward the player.
"I can tell you if a player of that stature were ever going to be traded, I would go meet with him, face to face, and discuss the situation," Lawton added. "That has never happened."
Lecavalier, whose "no-move" clause, which is part of his 11-year, $85-million contract extension, doesn't kick in until July 1, confirmed he has not been approached.
It is a busy time for Lightning officials, who last week met with league brass 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 adverse effect on the team's finances.
"No different than most of the business 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," Lawton added. "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 his starting point in evaluating the roster is the same used by every 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."
Lecavalier, the Rocket Richard Trophy winner in 2007 for his league-high 52 goals, has struggled this season. He entered Monday tied for the team lead with 16 goals, but his 36 points put him well behind his pace the past two seasons in which he had 108 and 92, respectively.
What has been consistent are trade rumors, especially to his hometown Canadiens, which have followed him almost his entire career.
"I guess you get used to it," Lecavalier said. "You've got to insulate yourself from it, for sure."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.