It is a dilema facing more than one NHL organization at the moment. A matter of priority with little or no room for error.
With rising salary caps an odd reality in the post lockout NHL, several teams are facing budgetary restraints. In truth, the new cap limits envisioned for the 2007-08 season, estimated at $48 million, exceed what certain teams were paying out prior to the lockout.
It is in fact what more than the majority were spending in 2004.
I suggest the word "odd" because the lockout was supposed to have bridged the large gap between the "have's" and "have not's" of the leagues team fiscal monetary means.
Wasn't that the purpose of the lockout in the first place?
Irregardless, several teams have been tossing out dollars just as foolishly as before the so-called "new NHL" was born. The upcoming free agency season, next July 1st, will be a very tell-tale day as to where many organizations stand financially.
One team throwing all its eggs in one basket are the Tampa Bay Lightening.
Huge contracts awarded to such stars as Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, and Vincent Lecavalier have placed the team in a bind as to where it's future can go. With almost half the team's payroll taken up by three star players, it has given the Lightening little manoeverability in terms of negotiating raises to other worthy players. If they fail to properly re-evalute the vision of their teams goals, mistakes could become costly in a bubble hocket market.
The truth is that the Lightening's budget will not see them equal the NHL's salary cap next season. This losing proposition has led to rumblings that Tampa GM Jay Feaster will need to unload one of his big three contracts.
After the Lightening's Stanley Cup win in 2004, Feaster was somewhat cornered in offering all three top dollar. As St.Louis, Richards, and Lecavalier were all on the brink of unrestricted free agency, he could not afford to lose either of the three for nothing.
He signed all three to big dollar deals knowing full well it could compromise the Lightening's future.
Now, nearing July 1, 2007, that day is upon Feaster.
Which asset of the three will he chose to lose?
Richards, the most complete player of the three, has the most dollars attached to his contract. It is doubtful that any team that has the cap room to afford him, sees him as being as valuable to them. He is also the least point producing of the three.
St.Louis, former Art Ross and Hart trophy winner, is the eldest of the group. He endured a questionable season between 2004 and his resurgence this season. He has never produced prior to arriving with Tampa, being given the ice team he now enjoys. Similar productiveness on a contender may be doubtful.
Lacavalier, by the time you've read this, may have just reached his first 50 goal season. His contract, more than the other two Lightening stars, was a deal made for the future. It seemed quite a bit much at the time but now seems to equal his output.
Perversly, Lacavalier has become Tampa's most tradeable commodity in this crucial financial paradox.
Feaster is a smart and astute GM. He realizes the constraints of dealing either of the three and realizes his biggest return lies with dealing Lacavalier. While he surely doesn't relish the corner he has painted himself into, he will understand how to best get himself out of it.
It all begins with Lecavalier's dream team - the Montreal Canadiens.
For those who may not know this, Lecavalier wore his same number 4, when he played the Habs legendary Jean Beliveau in the film about "The Rocket". (NHL'ers Pascal Dupuis and Sean Avery also werein on the roles.)
Nevermind the irony of Lacavalier as Beliveau in a movie on Maurice Richard, there are several facts that add up to Feaster wanting to speak with the Canadiens first.
To begin with, the Habs need a bona-fide top line center - at any salary within reason. No one in Montreal would balk at Lecavalier's pricetag coming off a 50 goal season.
Secondly, the Canadiens have the prospects to suit the Lightening's needs for the future, at any position required.
On top of that, the Canadiens may lose an UFA of their own in the off-season, namely Sheldon Souray (though he's admitted he hopes the team can retain him), and Andrei Markov, who has expressed more than once, a desire to remain in Montreal.
Should the Canadiens suffer the fate of losing one or both, the aquiring of Lecavalier would prompt the media focus away from such losses in a big time way. No need to explain the significance of french Canadiens allegiances here.
On the eventuality that Montreal is not interested in the Lecavalier contract, the Tampa GM will still begin with talking with Montreal to raise the bar in trade talks.
The Canadiens have $26 million to spend as they see fit next summer - with resignings in the equation. Expect the Montreal media to be on the Lecavalier scenario until the team is capped out within reason.
For Lecavalier and the Montreal Canadiens, it should be an interesting summer!