With reports of an expedited sale process of the Tampa Bay Lightning to hedge fund manager Jeff Vinik, there are continued rumblings -- perpetuated by The Hockey News' reports on the situation -- that Vincent Lecavalier will be traded preceding the transaction.
It's appeared twice on THN -- the initial article reporting of Vinik, and now Ken Campbell's piece which talks about executive movement with the Lightning and, you guessed it, Enzo's future with the Bolts:
There is also growing speculation Vinik will want to immediately trim payroll, meaning the team will be shopping captain Vincent Lecavalier and his $7.72 million salary cap hit leading up to the March 3 trade deadline. In the first year of an 11-year contract, Lecavalier’s salary is actually $10 million this season and each of the next six seasons and it’s believed Vinik thinks the Lightning has to get out from under that contract if it is to be financially viable.
It’s believed that if the deal is made, it will be done before Vinik takes over the team so the new owner can be insulated from the inevitable backlash that would come from dealing the franchise player.
What I don't understand here is this: If Vinik is the guy buying the team, and the supposed payroll dump of Lecavalier is orchestrated for Vinik, how does this insulate him from backlash? He is a mystery figure who should be looked at as public-enemy number one if Vincent Lecavalier were to be dealt.
This kind of twisted logic -- make the player movement for the numbers to work in a sale -- reminds me of another episode in the Lightning's past. Long-time Lightning fans might recall the tale of the the Maloof family.
They were a safe bet for approval from the NHL as owners in 1997, even with their casino ties. Japanese ownership was desperate to rid themselves of the team, and the Maloofs looked like willing sale partners...
The Maloofs started having a say in team interests and actions, and what did they do to the Bolts? They influenced the course of the 1997 off-season (the draft and the direction of the team in free agency) which led directly to the Lightning's on-ice product falling on hard times for the next five seasons.
And you know what was the worst part of it? They didn't even buy the Lightning. They walked away and left the ruins of their fickle intentions for others to deal with, and for the fans to suffer.
Some of the local fan base have been part of the "dump-Vinny" chants this season, all helped along by way of the lack of production and the huge contract. While that is a worthy debate to have, about Lecavalier's contract size and his cost-effectiveness, getting on the bandwagon of these rumors (in the context that a trade will be made to help along the sale of the team) is not the thing to do.
The potential for this trade, in how it's being reported as if it would be orchestrated by the NHL itself, is not the type of transaction that will be in the Lightning's best interests. It'll be a salary dump. Draft picks, also-ran prospects, maybe a third-liner in return for Lecavalier and potentially more.
That's not positive for the longevity of the Lightning franchise. And such a deal may lead to a domino effect of a large roster turnover later under Vinik's watch to further make the numbers work. "You blessed the Lecavalier deal, now give your blessings for the shedding of Martin St. Louis, Ryan Malone, Mattias Ohlund, Andrej Meszaros, and other contracts."
It's also important to note that any deal is not going to start by going through the team or even the league offices. It has to go through Kent Hughes, Lecavalier's agent. That's the entire idea of the no-movement clause (as to a more common no-trade clause): Lecavalier's camp is in the drivers seat with any transaction involving Vincent Lecavalier.
"I have never spoken with Jeff (Vinik)," Hughes said. "I have not heard from anybody else within the Tampa Bay Lightning organization in regards to Vinny Lecavalier, period. It seems that any time there's mention of the Lightning outside Tampa Bay, it involves speculation about a Vinny Lecavalier trade.
"After two years of speculation, we've grown immune to it and will stick with the facts. The facts are, not a single person connected to this financial bid or to the organization has contacted us about Vinny being traded."
A Lecavalier deal does not avoid a backlash for Vinik. It'd much sooner set the precedent for another owner of a Bay area sports franchise that puts costs over competitiveness. It would make it seem that Vinik did not have the best interests of the franchise at heart, but the bottom-line instead. A non-local owner doing that would not and should not sit well with Lightning fans.