Lecavalier on his way out?

By Chad Schnarr

For many Lightning fans, the unthinkable is becoming expected. The future “Michael Jordan of Hockey,” and Lightning franchise player could be dealt within the coming days or weeks.

There was a time when both the Jordan comparison and trade idea was looked at as absurd.

Vincent Lecavalier has struggled with confidence and injuries the last two years, and after some over-publicized spats with coach John Tortorella, Tampa Bay GM Rick Dudley is no longer hanging up the phone when Vinny’s name is mentioned in trade talks. This is due in part to the rumors of Lecavalier’s camp demanding a trade, not the Lightning’s unhappiness with the young star, nor its siding with the unproven coach over the player.

This potential trade has armchair GM’s from Mexico to the North Pole (we think Santa has a separate list of picks and prospects he thinks are fair value for Lecavalier) working out deals.

A lot of thought has gone into thinking up what could be given up (or held onto) for the 1998 #1 overall pick.

What is the Lightning looking for?

Well, that’s the question most seem to ignore.

There are two sides to every deal, and you can bet whomever gets Lecavalier is going to have to give. Core players are no longer safe.

The Lightning is currently among the league leaders in save percentage and goals against. The goaltending is fine. If you’re thinking about dealing a ready for prime-time ‘tender to Tampa as the deal’s centerpiece, forget it. The top-four, no-name defense, has also played well, at least by the numbers. While a defenseman would be welcomed in Tampa, it may not be the centerpiece to the deal.

While the goals against are admirable, the goals-for are horrible.

Tampa remains at the bottom of the league in goals scored. This is WITH Prince Vince.

Players coming back must immediately improve the club offensively. They must improve the team now, and leave it in good position for the future. When Lecavalier is putting up 90 points a year playing in ______, the Lightning faithful (if there are any left after this deal) should look to the acquisition(s) and not be reminded of the Roman Hamrlik for Steve Kelly, Jason Bonsignore and Bryan Marchment deal (which ironically was indirectly responsible for landing Lecavalier in the first place) that drove the club further into the ground a few years ago.

In that sense, Tampa will be looking for immediate NHL impact at forward. They will also be looking for a puck-moving defenseman. Oh, by the way, these players must be relatively young and not too expensive (owners requirements). Lecavalier’s $4 million dollar contract being exported will help with the imported salaries.

If Tampa GM Rick Dudley has his choice (which he does), the players coming back will have size and speed. One needs to only look at his drafting history to see what is craved.

This team is no longer in a position where draft picks and unproven prospects are the main targets. With Nikolai Khabibulin and Kevin Weekes playing among the league’s best this year, the Bolts are in position to take that next step into playoff contention, while still being set for the future, depending on what the return is on Lecavalier.

This deal should strengthen the Lightning, not the Springfield Falcons, although they could use some help. Picks, prospects and possible 2nd liners will not do the trick.

It’s rare that any deal of this (potential) magnitude does not include throw-in’s or a package of some sort.

Tampa has a few spare parts and prospects to throw around to get the most out of a deal. The prime candidates are Brian Holzinger, Kevin Weekes (if a goalie is coming back as part of, not the centerpiece, a package) and a hoard of young defensive prospects headed by Cory Sarich.

Other Lightning core players will not be touched. Names typically thrown around when “the core” is mentioned include Lecavalier’s best friend Brad Richards, Fredrik Modin, Nikolai Khabibulin and Pavel Kubina. Many Lightning fans would love to see Kubina leave town, but it’s unlikely to happen. It’s also unlikely last year’s top pick Alexander Svitov will be included in any deal.

Rick Dudley has repeatedly stated any deal involving Lecavalier will have to have considerable return. Many Lightning fans are comparing this potential deal to the Eric Lindros – Peter Forsberg deal that put the Nordiques/Avalanche on the map. This team must improve now.

By default, most potential deals could improve the lowly Lightning. However, this will be the biggest trade in Tampa Bay Lightning history and it needs to make its mark. This team cannot merely take two steps forward after taking one step back (trading Lecavalier). It must take many immediate steps forward considering what will be lost both on and off the ice.