As has been announced, Vincent Lecavalier will be bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 14-year NHL veteran had just completed the 4th year of an 11-year, 85 million dollar contract that would run until 2020.
The issue for the Lightning was twofold with the long-term deal that the previous ownership and management group had committed to the long-time captain of the Lightning. First, Lecavalier's ongoing cap hit of 7.7 million a year was becoming a headache in regards to his production, he had not scored 30 goals in any of his four previous seasons before the lockout-shortened 2013 season and had only registered two seasons over 60 points in the same amount of time.
The second issue was the recapture penalty on his contract. Were he to retire before his contract had concluded, Tampa Bay would have been heavily penalized on their salary cap for the remainder of the years on his contract in such a case.
As per the ultra-useful CapGeek, these would be the annual cap hit penalties if Lecavalier were to retire early.
As you can see, a pretty painful pill to swallow in the salary cap era no matter how early that cap hit is spread out.
This is a unique period for the "Lecavalier to Montreal" talk that has been ongoing for essentially as long as Lecavalier has been in the NHL. He's a free agent, Montreal would only have to spend cash to acquire him, not picks, prospects or roster players in any kind of deal.
With that in mind, let us consider some of the popular considerations about Lecavalier pulling on the CH.
It always seems to start here does it not? Vincent Lecavalier is one of a handful of high-profile Quebec-born players in the NHL. This is not Lecavalier's fault but rests on the faults of the Quebec hockey programs, as they had something of a lost decade in developing top-flight players for the NHL. Because of this, some persons have been a bit overeager in the idea of stacking the Canadiens with French Canadians, even if those French Canadians are not particularly good or particularly enthusiastic to the idea.
Lecavalier is far afield from a Guillaume Latendresse, a Mathieu Darche or a David Desharnais of course, but has he shown any interest in being a hometown hero? He was a year from being an unrestricted free agent in 2008 when he signed his now bought-out 11-year deal that would have seen him likely retire a member of the Lightning. Lecavalier had to suspect, and no doubt his agent told him, that Montreal might open the vault even further than Tampa did to make him a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Now that he has been bought out and is looking for a fresh start he might think about it, but if people can deride European-born players for not having passion for the CH (an outright lie in most cases), you have to think Lecavalier's real motivations are suspect. Some charming quotes to the Montreal media when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit Montreal does not actually equal true interest in playing for the Canadiens.
The idea of the Flying Frenchmen of course brings up a lot of fond memories for the older fans, but the practicality of bringing in a player based on his place of birth and with no real indication he dreams of wearing the CH makes it an empty point of argument for his acquisition. It makes for better PR than anything, but I suspect Lecavalier would not live up to expectations and find himself under fire. He has never before found himself in a fishbowl environment at the pro level, and he may not enjoy a daily microscope over everything he does.
Lecavalier will make the Canadiens better by improving scoring.
Obviously, Lecavalier is better than Desharnais. That is not up for debate and we need to consider the issue at heart, which is the Canadiens centre depth. Tomas Plekanec is the team's matchup ace; he takes on the toughest assignments each season at even-strength and is a leader on the penalty kill. Lars Eller is arguably developing in to Plekanec's sucessor as was shown by the evolution of his game at centre this past season and ability to take on tough minutes as necessary. This leaves the Canadiens with two centres with defensive abilities for their first three centres. Desharnais has been given the 'easy' job, as it were. He faces minimal competition, playing in an exploitation scoring role to prey upon teams' weak defensive players and deliver scoring.
The standing issue is the one the Canadiens already face with Plekanec, Eller, Desharnais as the Top 3 centres. What to do about Alex Galchenyuk? He was drafted as a centre and the organization has made it known they have every intention of grooming him to be one. If the Canadiens commit to Lecavalier for what would likely be at least three years to even get his attention (likely four) then you create a notable logjam in the system against Galchenyuk getting a steady shot at centre.
With it being irresponsible to deal away the team's top defensive forward in Plekanec or the developing Eller, still on a very cheap contract you run into an issue of forcing someone off the C position to give Galchenyuk his chance. With Eller having shown multiple times he does his best work down the middle after being forced to the wing, and Plekanec's position virtually unassailable, you are left with the consideration of pushing Lecavalier to the wing, or keeping Galchenyuk there and putting off his centre development for some time. Given that Lecavalier lacks experience as a winger, it does not seem an ideal scenario to press him into that position while trying to create an opening for Galchenyuk to assume the role of a scoring line centre.
Overall, I do not feel there is a large enough reward to adding Lecavalier to the roster. He has never shown a true interest to play in the market, and may not be cut out to play in a city that would put everything he does under a microscope. He has begun to develop a rather consistent habit of being injured each season, which could only further compound his scoring decline in the past several years. Finally, he continues the same issue the Canadiens have at the centre position, but as a far less likely candidate to be forced to the wing to accomodate Galchenyuk, and a more expensive one as well. Given the Canadiens cap freedom, I would rather they look to adding to their wing support and maintain a cap reserve if a more appealing asset becomes available. No need to lock in to a declining player who does not really boost the team in an area where they are not in great need. It is time to shelve "Lecavalier to Montreal" ideas for once and for all. He is not who he was, and who he is now is not someone that reads as a sound investment for the team.