Monday, January 12, 2009

Trade Vinny? Sacre Bleu!

So it begins and so it will continue day and night until March 4th. The annual “Trade Vincent Lecavalier to Montreal” rumors have begun. Much like the “Trade Carl Crawford to the White Sox” rumors this has become an annual tradition in the TBA. The Lightning struggles on ice and the current financial situations worldwide have only added fuel to the fire.

So will this be the year that Young Vincent makes his triumphant return home to Montreal? After all he has spent a decade in the hockey wasteland that is Tampa. Well I’m sure that’s how the average Habs fan looks at it. Let’s take a second to ask the virtual Magic 8 ball…it looks like the answer is a definitive “No”.

Well that’s good.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for lively talk radio or witty internet banter. So let’s delve into it a little further. There are several signs that point to him being traded and several reasons why he wouldn’t/shouldn’t be traded.

Let’s start with the positive. Why shouldn’t he be traded:

1. He is the Lightning. Mike Smith may be the MVP and Steven Stamkos may be the future, but for now Vincent is the team. If you look at the billboards and the advertising flyers in the area you see Vincent’s face plastered all over them (especially with the demise of the “Seen Stamkos” campaign). He is the captain and the first line center. Even in a down year he’s tied for the team lead in goals and has been named to the All Star team. At 28 he should be entering his prime playing years. Years that should be played in a Lightning uniform.

2. He is going to be making a lot of money for a lot of years. It’s going to be hard for a team to accept a 9 year contract with a salary cap hit of $7,727,273 per year for a player that has topped 90 points only twice in his career? A team would have to decide that Lecavalier is as much as Alex Ovcehkin ($9,538,000) and Sidney Crosby ($8,700,000). A team picking up Vincent would risk losing future payroll flexibility signing onto that large of a contract. So far the Lightning have been lucky enough to deal away two of the highest contracts in the NHL (Dan Boyle and Brad Richards) it would be a lot to expect them to get away with it a third time.

3. Believe it or not the Lightning still have a shot at the playoffs. Halfway through the season they are 13 points out of the 8th and final spot in the Eastern Conference. Flash back to last season when the Washington Capitals were mired in 14th place midway through the season and then caught fire to win the division and make it to the playoffs. Over the past 9 games the Bolts have shown flashes of life going 5-3-1. If they go on a 7-3 or 8-2 stretch they are right back in the race.

Now the negative

1. He is going to make a lot of money pretty soon and have a no trade clause. Once his extension kicks in this summer he has the right to veto a deal to any team. While that doesn’t preclude a deal being done (see Boyle, Dan) it does make it a lot more difficult. It limits the amount of teams they could deal with, although the best fit, Monteal, would presumably be a team Vincent wouldn’t mind playing for. That would add motivation to get a deal done now.

2. For the first time in years actual names are being bandied about on Montreal’s side. Normally the rumors are “Vinny is being traded for prospects and draft picks” with no actual names being thrown out there. Darren Dreger of TSN lists Christopher Higgans, Tomas Plekanec, prospect PKSubban and draft picks as components of a possible deal. Once names are out there it becomes more than an internet rumor (it becomes a mainstream media rumor!)

3. The Lightning aren’t exactly a money making machine. Attendance is down, the owners are restructuring their deal with the Davidson group and the economy in general is, too be optimistic, experiencing a bit of a downturn. Jettisoning Lecavalier’s contract for two soon to be restricted free agents in Higgans and Plekanec would free up a lot of salary next season along with freeing up some cash this season/.

So there are some pros and cons to moving Young Vincent. If I had to hazard a guess at this point I would say he is staying. Right now Montreal is really the only destination that would have interest in him (although that could change as the trade deadline approaches) and with them comfortably in the playoff hunt it would be hard for them to justify blowing up their team just to pick up a hometown boy.

I think this will be a big year for Lecavalier. He is coming off his first major injury, which he admits is still bothering him, he is the captain of a struggling team and he is entering the phase of his career that will define his career. Will he fulfill the offensive potential of a former first overall pick or like he did from 2006-2008 or will he be a mediocre scorer that shows the occasional flashes of brilliance?

He does seem to be showing signs of coming along with 3 multiple point games in his last 7 played so perhaps his shoulder is gaining strength. It also looks like he is starting to grow accustomed to Coach Tocchet’s style of play. During Barry Melrose’s Reign of Confusion Lecavalier often looked lost and frustrated out on the ice. Lately he is starting to look like the Young Vincent of old, initiating contact and making the tape to tape passed that lead to easy goals for his line mates.

One more minor note. Oren Koules has taken a lot of heat as an owner so far. While he may be finding team ownership a little more daunting then he first imagined he is a Hollywood guy. Which means he knows the importance of publicity. Trading the franchise player in his prime is not the type of publicity he needs in order to put fans in the seat.

Interestingly enough not only do we have to deal with Lecavalier trade rumors now we also are seeing Marty St Louis’ name coming up. According to a report on The Fourth Period, a website I honestly don’t know it’s accuracy, there is interest in Steel City for the sniper. The only reason I mention this is because it’s a trade I’ve talked about with Link, a Pittsburgh native who is 95% responsible for my being a hockey fan.

St Louis would be a nice fit with Sidney Crosby, a superb playmaker who excels at creating opportunities for his teammates. Unlike the Lecavalier rumors there haven’t been any names thrown about on the Penguin side although I’m sure they’d like to pry a young talent like Jordan Staal or Alex Goligoski (hey a fan can dream right?), but would probably end up with a mid tier prospect or draft pick.

In the past I have advocated trading St Louis especially at the deadline for a couple of reasons. T 33 he is the oldest of the offensive talents (let’s call them the Dynamic Duo since Brad Richards is gone now), he is on the downside of his career, but still a sought after commodity. Any team in a playoff race would be willing to take a proven scorer who has scored 25 or more goals in the last 5 seasons.

This year I have changed my tune. In the last few weeks Marty has shown that while Vincent may wear the “C” Marty is emerging as the true leader of the team. He was the first player to call out his teammates and overall is more vocal in the press than Lecavalier. Moving him at this point would be detrimental to the small steps the team has made at reclaiming this season of futility.

The next few months will be nothing if not exciting. Hopefully a lot of talk and little action will be the end result and Young Vincent will continue to skate in the black and blue, not the Bleu, Blanc Rogue of the Canadians.

Since I’m no good at this html thing. Here are the links for the TSN article and the Fourth Period report:

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