TAMPA — The Lightning brass over the next several months will crunch the numbers, both financial and statistical, evaluate whatever offers that might develop and gauge the pulse of the community.
Most of all, though, it will take its time. As former Tampa Bay coach Jacques Demers said of deciding whether to retain captain Vinny Lecavalier or trade him: "It's probably the biggest decision in franchise history."
The question is on the table, and, basically, it comes down to money. Lecavalier's 11-year, $85 million deal raises his salary to $10 million next season from $7.167 million. If, as expected, the Lightning carries a payroll of $43 million to $45 million, Lecavalier's contract will eat up almost a quarter.
Lecavalier, who turns 29 on April 21, may be one of the world's most gifted players, but that is a big bite for a team that this summer has to rebuild its blue line and may try to add a top-six forward.
It was a difficult season for Lecavalier. He missed training camp rehabbing after shoulder surgery. His 29 goals and 67 points were his lowest outputs since 2001-02, and on April 4, he had season-ending wrist surgery.
Trade rumors followed him from January into the March 4 trade deadline, fueled by the team's poor record and financial situation. By the time the June 26-27 draft comes around, the speculation could be a frenzy.
The draft is in Montreal, Lecavalier's hometown and a hockey-mad city starved for a French-Canadian star, and the no-move clause in Lecavalier's contract doesn't kick in until July 1.
"The way the year is going, with all the rumors, I'm sure it's not going to stop, especially with the draft being in Montreal," Lecavalier said Monday after his exit interview at the St. Pete Times Forum with coach Rick Tocchet. "I don't know what to say. I said it all in January."
"Brian Lawton has assured us if they make a decision they have to move Vinny, the first call they make is to us so we can be in the process," Lecavalier's agent Kent Hughes said of the Lightning general manager. "Brian Lawton hasn't called."
A potential Lecavalier trade is full of mine fields, not the least of which would be the reaction of fans. Lecavalier has become a community icon since being 1998's No. 1 overall draft pick, and helped the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup.
That is why Demers, a television analyst for Canada's RDS network, said a deal would have to be a slam-dunk win for Tampa Bay.
"It all depends who you bring in," he said. "You could turn the franchise around. You make the right trade for Vinny, you could easily go from a non-playoff team to a team fighting for one of the top four spots."
That Lecavalier's contract carries a $7.7 million salary cap hit also could be problematic for teams that might be interested, said former Whalers coach Pierre McGuire, a TSN analyst, because the cap is expected to decrease, perhaps significantly, the next few years from $56.7 million.
"So, if you have a $10 million player," McGuire said, "how much room does that leave you to get a player he can pass to or score with?"
Funny, the Lightning is trying to figure the same thing.
STAMKOS TO WORLDS: Rookie Steven Stamkos will play for Canada at the world championship April 24-May 10 in Switzerland. He joins teammate Marty St. Louis. "It's a great honor for me," Stamkos said. "Any time you can represent your country, I'm going to jump on that. … It's going to be a great experience."
"I'm excited I'm going with Stammer," St. Louis said. "It's nice to go with a teammate, somebody you can lean on."
Around the league
Avalanche gm gone: The team fired general manager Francois Giguere, saying fans and management "deserve better" than a last-place finish in the Western Conference. President Pierre Lacroix will oversee the Avalanche until a replacement is hired. The Avalanche (32-45-5) was 28th in the league, in front of the Islanders and Lightning. For now, coach Tony Granato's job appears safe.
Red Wings: The team recalled forward Darren Helm from Grand Rapids.
SHARKS: The team recalled left wing Jamie McGinn from its Worcester AHL affiliate for the postseason, and center Torrey Mitchell is hoping to return after missing the regular season with leg injuries.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]