In one of the biggest moves so far this offseason, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman decided to buy out captain Vincent Lecavalier.
While not exactly popular among fans, this gives the team flexibility moving forward. They can re-sign young players, extend guys that truly deserve it (Steven Stamkos, anyone?) and even sign top free agents–all without exceeding the newly lowered $64.3 million salary cap.
Look at it this way. The Lightning finished 27th out of 30 teams in 2013, yet boasted the league’s third best offense. One that averaged 3.06 goals per game.
So if scoring wasn’t their problem, what was?
Defense and netminding. On average, they gave up the same number (3.06) of goals that were scored.
Yzerman attempted to solidify the goaltending early, acquiring Ben Bishop from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for rookie forward Cory Conacher. And though he and Anders Lindback didn’t fare wonderfully down the stretch, the hope is that both will perform better as they gain experience.
Unfortunately, many other signings couldn’t happen without at least one buyout being used. Lecavalier was earning $7.7 million per year until 2020 and spent tons of time on injured reserve.
Combine that with the fact Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, is coming off back-to-back Calder Cup final appearances (winning it in 2012), and contracts (or extensions) for players like Radko Gudas, Keith Aulie, Mike Angelidis, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Mark Barberio to name a few became top priority.
Then there’s the small fact that 2012 60-goal scorer Stamkos has only three years remaining on a five-year, $37.5 million contract. Assuming he continues producing at an elite level, the Lightning should do everything possible to lock him up.
Sad as it is to see Lecavalier go, the Lightning must shift their focus to the future. An incredibly bright one from the look of things.