Life immediately after Lecavalier; where do the Tampa Bay Lightning go from here? [UPDATED]
A day after the bombshell that Vincent Lecavalier will be bought out, it's time to casually speculate about options on the second line for the Bolts
The storm is in full swing over Tampa Bay's buyout of Vincent Lecavalier and the gain that one team or another would get from him being signed in free agency. On a business level, covering hockey, it's same stuff, different day regarding a big name free agent hitting the market.
On a personal level, it's nauseating; it's something I never wanted to hear about or see. It's the downside of pro sports - your team's loss, another team's gain. The difference between regular sports wins and losses and free agent frenzy is that this loss is someone you have personal ties to.
So the league is in frenzy that Lecavalier has become the big fish in a small pond of 2013 NHL free agents. But it does nothing to address Tampa Bay's situation right now: The #2 center is gone. So now what?
Really, now what? How do you resolve the loss of your second-line center? What do you do, who do you chase, etc? Silly Season demands the Lightning chase all the marquee free agents in an attempt to solve the issue, Mike Riberio being chief among them.
Yet, I don't see the situation being resolved that way. Perhaps it'll come about in a trade (and that's not wishful thinking, as a trade would likely not involve draft picks but prospects). One trade option of note from news spread this morning is Calgary Flames center Mike Cammalleri. Reports say Jay Feaster wants to move him...
Tampa Bay could also attempt to solve the hole internally where several candidates already reside: Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson and Vladislav Namestnikov.
Killorn, who saw the majority of his NHL debut season on wing, played as a center during his collegiate career at Harvard. Johnson, who happens to be good at the hockey, is ready for an extended opportunity at the NHL level after his AHL MVP season in 2012-13. He also made his NHL debut last year, playing lower-line minutes but making his presence felt.
The dark horse is Vladdy. He made his professional debut last season with the Syracuse Crunch but lost significant playing time mid-season due to injury. He played 44 regular season games with the Crunch, scoring 7 goals and 14 assists. He had notably stronger play during the 2013 AHL playoffs, with 2 goals and 5 assists in 18 playoff games for the Crunch. While odds say he's heading back to Syracuse for 2013-2014, there's still a chance he'll impress enough during camp to push for a roster spot.
Some have speculated that the Lecavalier buyout ensures the Lightning go offense in the draft. The organization tends to take it's time with player development, so if a forward is selected - it's up to them to make the roster. That meaning Steve Yzerman is not going to let circumstances dictate if guys like Alex Barkov, Jonathan Drouin or Valeri Nichushkin make the team.
There's another option though, but it comes with strings attached - the biggest one being "will he even be available?" That and the fact his best friend was just bought out by the Lightning. I'm talking about New York Rangers center and former Tampa Bay Lightning star Brad Richards. Richards' situation became a riddle when John Tortorella scratched him during the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bruins, and speculation is that Bradmaster could be bought out by the Rangers. Richards had scored a single point during the playoffs for the Rangers, and while he put up a respectable 34 points in 46 games for the Rangers in 2013, that's just not enough offense for the amount of money he's making with the club.
Speculation is also out there that Brad gets another season in New York under new head coach Alain Vigneault who will be employing a different system than that which was in place under Tortorella.
By the time the Rangers settle on keeping or buying out Richards (they have until July 5th); the Lightning may have rectified their forward situation to a point they feel comfortable. So the possibility of Brad's return is a stretch for that reason (as well as the fact Tampa Bay has young prospects breaking through to the NHL now, and adding an older veteran may not be in the cards).
[Note by John Fontana, 06/28/13 4:34 PM EDT ] No sooner was this post published than TSN's Bob McKenzie posted the following:
NYR will not be using their remaining compliance buyout this summer so Brad Richards will remain a Blueshirt.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 28, 2013
So, scratch the idea of Richards return to Tampa as an option.
There are more than a few options for the Lightning, many more than I mentioned on this post... How things proceed from this point forward is anyone's guess, but I do expect things to be clarified much sooner than later.