Try this exercise before rushing to judgment on the $22.5-million (U.S.) the Philadelphia Flyers paid to sign Vincent Lecavalier to a five-year contract Wednesday – which, admittedly, seemed like an odd NHL marriage at first blush:
What is the actual value of a No. 2 centre, with Lecavalier’s size (6 foot 4, 208 pounds) and pedigree, on the open market?
And just for a moment, forget Philadelphia’s salary-cap issues, or its inability to land a starting goaltender beyond Steve Mason.
If you were evaluating the transaction strictly as a hockey deal, you’d have to say it was a defensible acquisition for a team that believes it has to bounce right back into the NHL’s elite after a miserable season in which it missed the playoffs.
The Flyers had a need for a second, scoring centre to play behind Claude Giroux and the acquisition cost was zero – no players, no draft choices, just another plunge into owner Ed Snider’s wallet.
So a $4.5-million annual salary for a player who became available as a free agent after the Tampa Bay Lightning bought him out last week, is not an outrageous price to pay.
All you need to consider is Tampa did not want to let Lecavalier go in the first place, and tried all kinds of sneaky cap-circumventing manoeuvrings the NHL wouldn’t allow before reluctantly parting ways with him. Lecavalier became one more victim of a new collective agreement that penalized the crazy, long-term contracts that came into vogue between work stoppages.
Once Lecavalier hit the open market, however, virtually half the teams in the NHL lined up to make an offer. This was an unprecedented stampede for his playing rights and represented a strong indication of his value around the league.
Philadelphia, of course, rarely gets outbid when it comes to free-agent acquisitions – and the prevailing theme, throughout the Paul Holmgren regime as general manager, is they’ll eventually find a way to make the cap numbers work. The priority is to stockpile talent, sometimes in bizarre and unusual ways.
Thus far this off-season, the Flyers have subtracted goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Daniel Brière for salary-cap reasons, but added a scoring defenceman in Mark Streit.
Lecavalier provides additional depth down the middle and gives both of their youngsters in the middle – Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier – time to develop. If, over time, the Flyers need to shift Lecavalier to the wing, they can do that, too. And if his play starts to drop off by the time he’s 37 or so, they’ll just eat another contract, same as always.
For years in Tampa, whenever former head coach John Tortorella wanted to spice up the attack, he put Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards together on the ice – and it usually produced something worthwhile. The Flyers learned that the hard way in 2004 – Tampa eliminated them in the conference final en route to a Stanley Cup championship, with Lecavalier playing a significant role.
Once Philadelphia places defenceman Chris Pronger (postconcussion syndrome) on long-term injury reserve and moves out one additional defencemen – Braydon Coburn’s name came up a lot this weekend in trade talks with the Edmonton Oilers – they will be cap compliant for next year.
The expectation is the cap will jump significantly the season after next because of new revenues coming on stream – and Snider never refuses when his GM comes asking for a few extra dollars to spend.
The chief complaint in Philadelphia is no amount of scoring talent will matter unless it gets the goaltending situation squared away. But that is something that can be addressed separately and apart from this transaction, which involved landing a player that, privately, a lot of NHL people believe can still add value, even as his scoring numbers have fallen off in recent years.
Can that many teams be wrong in their evaluations? Presumably, we’ll find out soon enough.