Coming off a horribly disappointing season, and sitting dangerously close to the new $64.3 million salary cap, the Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves pondering many things. One of which is the future of captain Vincent Lecavalier.
Long considered a franchise mainstay, Lecavalier helped the Lightning go from relative obscurity to one of the NHL‘s most prolific offenses. He played a huge role in the team’s 2004 Stanley Cup win, then set a team-record 52 goals (later broken by Steven Stamkos) in 2006-07′.
But since that time, things have gone downhill for Lecavalier. He’s aged, battled numerous injuries and just plain not lived up to expectations. At least not the ones associated with a 11-year, $85 million contract that has him signed through 2020.
There’s also the fact Tampa Bay gave many young guys a chance last season. And they certainly didn’t disappoint, contributing both offensively and defensively in their short time with the team. Tyler Johnson‘s plus-3 rating was better than top six forwards Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn, while Ondrej Palat‘s plus-5 ranked tied for second among Lightning players.
Another youngster that played well in 2013 was defenseman Keith Aulie. He notched seven points in 45 games, and tied for third among defenseman with a plus-1 rating. Definitely good enough to warrant a new contract this offseason.
Speaking of contracts, the Lightning must do everything possible to extend Stamkos before his current one expires in 2016. A two-time Rocket Richard trophy winner, he’s dazzled all opponents with his offensive firepower. That earned him high praise from all areas, with some NBC Sports analysts even comparing him to Pittsburgh Penguins‘ captain Sidney Crosby. Because of this, Tampa Bay would be foolish not to extend him.
However, Lecavalier’s contract throws a wrench in lots of GM Steve Yzerman‘s plans. That leaves two options: either buy out the remainder of his contract or attempt to trade him.
Although some may not agree, buying out Lecavalier is probably the Lightning’s best option. It frees up room to extend Stamkos, while also giving young guys a chance to stick around and show what they can do.