Ray Ferraro, a former NHL star turned television analyst, said if the Lightning decides to trade superstar center Vinny Lecavalier, "it would send a jolt through the league."
Forget the league, former Lightning coach Jacques Demers said. "If you're going to trade Vinny, you're putting yourself in a situation of, 'How long are you going to be in Tampa?' "
Demers' hyperbole is understandable. He was Lecavalier's first coach and pushed to give the 18-year-old No. 1 draft choice playing time. It is a reminder, though, of the public-relations minefield through which the organization would have to navigate if a trade became more than Internet speculation.
Lightning fans have a proprietary relationship with Lecavalier, 28, whom they lovingly embraced as he morphed from just another kid with potential into the face of the franchise, from a Montreal native to someone who now calls Tampa his second home.
"I love being in Tampa," Lecavalier said. "I'm a very loyal guy."
But when putting together a winning team, loyalty is secondary to this: Does a trade make hockey sense?
"It makes sense if you consider that Wayne Gretzky was traded, that Patrick Roy was traded," said Pierre McGuire, an analyst for Canada's TSN network and a former Whalers coach. "It makes sense if you get the right components back in the deal. If you do make a deal like that, you better make sure you bring back players who can erase the bad feelings that Lecavalier is gone. Otherwise, the trade will be viewed as a disaster."
"You have to give hope to the fans," Demers said. "You've got to make sure you don't make a mistake."
That is what Demers, then a Canadiens scout, said he told Montreal general manager Rejean Houle in December 1995 before Houle traded Roy and Mike Keane to the Avalanche for goalie Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko.
Montreal has missed the playoffs in five of 12 seasons since and not gotten out of the second round while Roy became arguably the game's greatest goalie.
It took the Bruins three seasons to reach the playoffs after they traded Joe Thornton in December 2005 to the Sharks for Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart.
The Oilers needed a season to regroup after trading Gretzky, Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski to the Kings in August 1988 for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first-round draft picks and $15-million. But Edmonton, already loaded and behind captain Mark Messier, won the 1990 Stanley Cup, its fifth in seven years.
The point is, Ferraro said, "You can't trade a star like Vinny and get just two good players. They need better than that."
Perhaps this is just an academic exercise. General manager Brian Lawton has been clear the Lightning is not shopping Lecavalier.
But the perception is that Tampa Bay is at least listening and having internal discussions as to whether the organization is better off long term with Lecavalier as a centerpiece or with the assets he could bring in return.
The team also needs to determine how Lecavalier's 11-year, $85-million contract that pays $10-million next season fits into the organization's financial structure. Things are tough enough that owner OK Hockey restructured a three-year, $70-million financing agreement with former owner Palace Sports & Entertainment.
"It's a group looking at their options," said former Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin, a Panthers television analyst. "It's not unlike Ottawa, where they're looking at (Dany) Heatley and (Jason) Spezza. These contracts are massive."
Add a salary cap that is expected to dip from the current $56.7-million and Ferraro, an analyst for Rogers Sportsnet in Canada, said potential trading partners could be limited.
"And if they do have the room," under the cap, "that probably means they don't have the players," he said.
Even so, Ferraro said, Tampa Bay should listen: "There is not a trade I wouldn't consider."
"Everybody is replaceable," Demers said. "But Vinny's the face of the franchise. Fans would be sad to see him go."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.