After a relatively quiet draft and a flurry of rumors dispelled one after another, the Flyers made a major splash acquiring former Tampa Bay Lightning Captain, 33-year old centerman Vincent Lecavalier.
Source says 5 year $23.5 mill for Lecavalier as a Flyer. checking on that
— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) July 2, 2013
After a few more minutes, it came out that the deal was for 5-years/$22.5 million with a full no-movement clause. While Lecavalier’s camp was very quiet throughout the process, the hours leading up to the announcement of the deal indicated that several teams were interested in the former Bolts’ captain. While it is possible that more were involved, there were confirmations that the teams interest in Lecavalier’s service included: Dallas, Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Toronto, and Washington.
While Lecavalier should be an upgrade over what the departed Danny Briere brought to the table last season, Lecavalier’s arrival to the team will come at a price. His deal will carry with it, a $4.5 million cap hit over the duration of the deal. As the roster stands, when Chris Pronger’s cap hit is taken off the books after he is officially on long-term injured reserve for the 2013-2014 season, the team should have enough room to fit under the current salary cap. However, the real issues with this move are more down the road. Should the team not extend any of their current players, it is possible that Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, and Steve Mason will all enter the 2013-2014 offseason as restricted free agents. If the team hopes to keep all of these players, it is in their best interest to not allow them to get to this point, as it leaves them vulnerable for other teams to use an offer sheet to try to pry them off the roster. While the Flyers would have the opportunity to match whatever offer is put on the table, they actually showed themselves last offseason that allowing a situation to get to that point is less than ideal. When the team tendered an offer sheet to Nashville D Shea Weber, they forced the Predators, a much smaller market team, to take on a 14-year/$110 million bombshell of a contract on their payroll. While the move is often frowned upon as a violation of ‘an unspoken agreement with owners’ I would not be at all surprised if opposing teams wouldn’t like to give the Flyers a taste of their own medicine.
Back to the matter of Lecavalier. For those who don’t remember, he was the centerpiece of the Lightning Stanley Cup team of 2004 that unceremoniously dispatched of the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The big centerman was drafted 1st overall in 1998 and has established himself as one of the premiere goal-scoring threats in the NHL. He is Tampa Bay’s all-time leader in goals scored (383) and has scored 20+ goals in 12 of his 14 professional seasons. In his five appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Lecavalier has tallied 24 goals and 28 assists. He has been a particularly frustrating thorn in the side of the Flyers, as he has 15 goals and 27 assists all time vs. the Orange and the Black.
When the team entered last season, they expected Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn to step in and hold down their second and third center slots behind Giroux, thus solidifying the team up the middle for the next decade. While Schenn and Couturier are still in their NHL infancy, their play at the center position last season was unacceptable. While Couturier still has all the makings of an elite defensive center with the capability of shutting down some of the top scorers in the NHL, his lack of progression in the offensive zone was a major cause for concern. He scored only four goals and turned in a startlingly low 0.33 points/game. While Couturier’s struggles were the topic of great concern, Brayden Schenn did very little to inspire hope of him holding down one of the top-two center spots for the Flyers in the future. The big forward acquired in the Mike Richards trade with the Kings scored only 8 goals for the Flyers and was -8 on the season. The two prizes of the Flyers prospect pool looked much more like inexperienced NHL players than they had the year before, where both were crucial cogs in Philadelphia’s late-season surge and opening round playoff win against the Penguins.
Perhaps the most disconcerting struggle of both Schenn and Couturier was at the faceoff circle. Couturier (43.9%) and Schenn (45.5%) were constantly putting their lines behind the 8-ball when it came to faceoffs and often allowed their units to be buried in the defensive zone for long stretches at a time. While the team has expressed a commitment to holding on to both Schenn and Couturier, they feel as if they are in a position to win now and the inefficiencies at the center position did not fit into that equation.
To put in perspective some of the value Lecavalier will bring to the team, his 54.4% faceoff percentage was a tenth of a point off the Flyers’ leader in the category (Giroux) and will be counted on to carry over Giroux’s success at the dot into second line situations.
Statistics aside, Lecavalier brings a veteran competitiveness to the Flyers that they really seemed to miss following the departure of Jaromir Jagr. The Flyers, even if they decide to part ways with one of their young wingers later in the offseason, are very young up front and looked that way in certain stretches last season. Lecavalier will be looked upon to bring a new mentality to the lineup with a focus on playing in all zones of the ice as well as maintaining a level of focus that was decidedly absent last year.
While the collective bashing of the signing has continued since the announcement, there is something to the signing that has to inspire some optimism. Last year, Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren ponied up and made their run at all the top free agents in the league and came up empty, leaving their lineup incredibly vulnerable. This year, while the crop of free agents isn’t as impressive as last, there was substantial interest in Lecavalier. There were at least half a dozen competitive teams vying for his services and, at the end of the day, the Flyers won the sweepstakes. The contract does not appear to be far from what market value for Lecavalier was, and speculation is that the decision came down to some of the small details of the draft. Also, while the team boasts several talented, impressive center prospects, including 2012 1st round pick Scott Laughton who impressed in his brief stint with the team last year, Giroux was the only one who turned in a performance that could leave the team confident with his position. As much as I love Schenn and Couturier, I found myself worrying more after watching their 2013 season, than I found myself excited after the year before.
This move almost assures the departure of one, if not more current roster players. While speculation has run rampant that the team would move Braydon Coburn or Matt Read, I would not be surprised if they decided to move Schenn or Couturier. Unless the team plans on giving Schenn a chance at the wing, there is no point in keeping both players on the roster in addition to Lecavalier, Giroux, Talbot, and Laughton should he make the team. The Flyers still must address their goalie situation in some capacity, and, despite the addition of Mark Streit, their defensive corps could also use some bolstering. While Coburn and Read are nice chips and could help acquire a solid player, Schenn and Couturier are the type of bargaining chips that could help bring in a young, top-pairing potential defenseman to be groomed to fill the injured Chris Pronger’s position.
The signing of Vincent Lecavalier is a controversial one in the sense that he is an aging superstar who apparently did not perform well enough to have his franchise keep him on board. However, as players like Chicago’s Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa have shown, there is a spot for veteran talent with a taste for the goal and knowledge of the game on NHL rosters. Hopefully, the buying out of his contract with the only team he played for light’s a fire under Lecavalier’s seat. While his skating ability and speed have started to abandon him, his ability to score around the net and show patience and foresight in even the most tense situations is something this team could really use. Should Lecavalier recapture some his game-in-game-out consistency on the scoresheet, I can see him being an even more valuable cog to the Flyers than Jagr a few years back.
I will be releasing a recap of the Flyers draft this past Sunday and will chime in on any moves the team makes in the near future. I can assure you, based on numbers alone, the Flyers have to do something big to clear some more cap space. While the rumors swirl, we all wait and see. Until then, enjoy free agency.