McKenzie: Potential for Lecavalier going to Habs is there

Bob McKenzie
1/12/2009 6:51:13 PM
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As complicated and muddled as the Tampa Bay Lightning picture can be at times, the reality of the Vinny Lecavalier situation there is really quite basic.

That is, if Lecavalier himself decides he wants to leave Tampa to become a Montreal Canadien, it could very well happen.

This is no longer pie in the sky stuff. The potential for a trade is there.

Let's try not to get hung up on semantics here. We don't need anyone from the Tampa organization telling us “we're not shopping Vinny.” And we don't need any pronouncements from Vinny's agent saying they've been “assured” Vinny won't be traded. We'll no doubt get those reactions and that' fine, it's to be expected.

But let's all deal with this like adults and see what's going on here.

The Lightning are not necessarily committed to trading Lecavalier but they are most certainly exploring that option and have had an ongoing dialogue with the Montreal Canadiens.

Within the Lightning ownership group, there are differing views on whether Lecavalier should be traded. One view is that the Lightning might as well close up shop if they trade Lecavalier after getting rid of Brad Richards and Dan Boyle, the foundation on which their 2004 Stanley Cup championship was built. No Lecavalier, it is opined, would equal no reason to buy a ticket to see the Bolts play. The other view is that if the team is going to become ultimately successful again, it needs to start over with a massive rebuild and the yield on a Lecavalier trade would expedite that process, to say nothing of getting out from under the 11-year, $86 million contract with a no-trade clause that takes effect July 1.

At some point, the folks in Tampa are going to have to get on the same page for a trade to occur, but that becomes a lot easier and much more manageable if the following happens: Vinny Lecavalier tells them he would just as soon move on.

Sources say that is precisely the type of soul searching that is going on now for the Lightning captain.

Obviously, when Lecavalier signed his 11-year extension in the summer, he envisioned playing his entire career for the same team. Lecavalier loves the Tampa Bay area. And he has loved playing for the Lightning. In the past, those who know him best, say he's never wanted anything to do with the notion of returning to his home province and being the Francophone star of the Montreal Canadiens.

But that attitude may be changing.

Lecavalier hasn't enjoyed anything about this season. He hasn't performed up to expectations. There is speculation his surgically-repaired shoulder is still inhibiting him. The Lightning have been a total disaster this season on the ice, having fired head coach Barry Melrose and with so many players coming and going through a revolving door. Lecavalier is said to be extremely discouraged with what has gone on.

The question he's no doubt asking himself now is this: Is it always going to be like this?

Because if it is, he's not sure he wants to stay. He did in the summer. Now, it's much more uncertain.

And those who know him best say he's now prepared to seriously consider something that was, for him, previously unthinkable - play hockey in Montreal.

Lecavalier does not currently have a no-trade clause, but who's kidding who, this entire trade scenario becomes a lot more plausible and possible if Lecavalier is on board with what the Lightning are doing.

So what's likely to happen next is that Lecavalier is, at some point in the very near future, going to make clear to the Lightning one of two things.

He's going to say: I don't want to be traded. I want to stay in Tampa.

Or he's going to say: I would welcome a trade to Montreal or (fill in the blank).

If it's the former, that's going to chill the trade scenario greatly because it would be a terrible message to send to the Lightning fans if the Bolts traded Lecavalier after he said he didn't want to leave. Good luck with that marketing plan. And how eager is any team going to be to trade for Lecavalier if they know he doesn't want to play for them?

If it's the latter, however, there is little standing in the way of a trade actually happening. Whatever differences exist within the Lightning ownership/management group would likely dissipate with Lecavalier's stated desire to be moved and the trade could be rationalized to the fan base there as doing what's best for Vinny and for the rebuilding franchise.

The only hurdle then would be working out the nuts and bolts of the trade with the Canadiens, who clearly are interested in making this deal. If they weren't, GM Bob Gainey could have shut the whole thing down today when he addressed the media, but he didn't.

What the deal might end up being is anybody's guess, but sources in Montreal say the actual offer the Canadiens have put on the table for Lecavalier does NOT include defenceman Mike Komisarek, nor is it likely to, but would see Tomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins, prospect P.K. Subban, Josh Gorges and a package of draft picks including more than one first-round pick going to Tampa.

No one needs to tell me Lecavalier's no-trade doesn't kick in until July 1 and the Lightning are within their rights to deal him as they see fit until then.

Because players with the stature of Lecavalier, and the type of presence he has in the Tampa marketplace, don't get moved without being part of the process. So when all is said and done, the direction this story goes hinges heavily on what Lecavalier wants to do.

So, Vinny, what's it going to be?

Do you want to stay? Or do you want to go?

Is it Yes? Or is it Non?

Bob McKenzie


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