I will let this tweet speak for itself.
#tblightning have bought out the contract of captain Vinny Lecavalier
— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) June 27, 2013
In a truly shocking move, the Tampa Bay Lightning have elected to buy out their captain, Vincent Lecavalier, choosing to pay him 30 million dollars over the next 14 years to become a UFA rather than have him continue to play for the only franchise he has ever known since joining the league in 1998.
The move frees up his 7.7 million in cap for Yzerman to negotiate with unrestricted free agents this offseason as the Bolts continue to shore up what was a suspect defense last season.
Lecavalier's exit, however, leaves a gaping hole at center in the lineup that will have to be filled. The best guess is for AHL MVP and leading goal-scorer Tyler Johnson to step into the NHL lineup as the 2nd line center starting this fall.
I don't know that this means Barkov is for sure TB's pick. Tyler Johnson as 2C isn't bad at all.
— Bolt Prospects (@BoltProspects) June 27, 2013
Unfortuntely, "isn't bad at all" is not the same as "good". While Johnson did impress at the NHL level last season, it was in a very short sample (just 14 games), and he played against the easiest competition of anyone on the Lightning. Conversely, Lecavalier was actually playing extremely tough minutes against the best players for opposing teams, and still maintaining a good point-per-game pace (.82).
It will be very difficult for what is essentially an NHL rookie — either Johnson or whoever is selected with the 3rd overall pick in the draft this Sunday — to step right into that role and succeed.
That might necessitate a UFA signing, but the crop of top-6 UFA centers isn't exactly thrilling and signing any one of them might, after a bidding war, end up costing the Lightning most of the cap they saved by buying out Lecavalier.
Ultimately, the CBA prevents teams that use an amnesty buyout on a player from re-acquiring that player for 1 year. So while there is still a faint possibility Lecavalier ends up back with the Lightning before his career is over, for the time being, the franchise is moving on without him.
When the puck drops on 2013-2014, it will be the first time without Lecavalier on the roster since the summer of 1998.
More than just a captain of a hockey team, though, the city will be losing a pillar of the community. A player who stuck with the ragtag, small market club and their fairweather fans until they became "real hockey fans". Vinny made Tampa Bay his home — his permanent home — and helped validate Tampa Bay as a hockey market, protecting the team from a fate similar to the twice-doomed hockey clubs in Atlanta.
So farewell, Vinny. Best of luck to you wherever you land.Tags: Buyout, Hockey, NHL, Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tyler Johnson, Vincent Lecavalier