Why Tampa shouldn't slam the door on Lecavalier trade talk

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton said a few things about potentially dealing Vincent Lecavalier in today's edition of the St. Pete Times. See if you can guess which quote is getting more play in the hockey media right now:

OPTION A: "To suggest we're engaging in conversations to trade him or we're shopping him to all teams in the National Hockey League is completely inaccurate," he said. "It's false, egregious and it's abusive toward the player. ... I can tell you if a player of that stature were ever going to be traded, I would go meet with him, face to face, and discuss the situation. That has never happened."

OPTION B: "There are no players who are untouchable."

If you guessed Option B, well then you know your TSN. The sports network has led with the Vinny story most of the day, claiming that Lawton's "untouchables" quote "drew a few raised eyebrows."

Here's what raises my eyebrow in a Belushi-like arch: That anyone would begrudge the Lightning from listening to offers, and that anyone in Montreal wouldn't be in favor of shipping out the current package being rumored for Lecavalier.

In fairness to TSN, Lightning beat writer Damian Cristodero called Lawton's decision not to yank Vinny from the table a "showstopper." But reading between the lines of his interview with Lawton, it's clear where this chatter and the GM's refusal to make Lecavalier untouchable intersect:

Lawton admitted the drooping economy has had an adverse effect on the team's finances.

"No different than most of the business around the world right now," he said. "We are not recession proof. Are we going out of business? Can we meet our payroll? Has coach (Rick) Tocchet been paid? All these ludicrous things I've heard are totally false.

"That is the root of where this discussion is coming from," Lawton added. "People are saying, 'Well, they're going out of business. They're going to have to trade their expensive players, and they're starting with their most expensive player.'"

As I said yesterday, it's probable that the Lightning have received ...oh, let's say 1,000 more phone calls than they've actually made about dealing Lecavalier. Everyone in the NHL has heard tales of pending financial doom for Tampa Bay. As Lawton said, in a roundabout way: You hear about a team in the dumper, you're going to inquire about "bailing them out" of their 11-year anchor; 'say, can we by chance take one of the best players in hockey off of your hands, sir?'

It's the difference between "listening" and "shopping." I believe Lawton when he says that Lecavalier isn't being shopped, because a 13-19-10 record, one coaching change and an economic downturn don't erase the reasons why the team committed to him until 2020 during the summer. Cristodero explains it:

So, here is what I think is happening. Teams, sensing an opening, are no doubt calling. The Lightning is listening, and it is safe to assume there have been internal discussions as to whether the team, long-term, would be better off with Lecavalier or the assets he would bring in a deal.

In the meantime, the rumor mill will churn. Canada's TSN already has a trade mapped out having to do with the Canadiens, though it does not include shut-down defenseman Mike Komisarek, who, logic says, would have to be included in any deal of this magnitude.

So why on earth shouldn't Lawton and the Lightning listen if the Montreal Canadiens suddenly move from their current offer to names like Komisarek or Carey Price? Or if another teams, sensing Lecavalier can be had, comes in with a blockbuster offer? If the Bolts' brass is actually talking about moving Vinny, it's likely in that "what if?" context.

Now, about that Montreal package. Bob McKenzie sent hearts aflutter with this package in his TSN coverage yesterday:

"... 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."

If I'm a Bolts fan, I'm yawning through the tears. A Lecavalier trade would be the closest thing we've seen to the Lindros deal, which was Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, two first-round picks and $15 million in 1992. That came after a bidding war between the Flyers and Rangers -- yet another reason to keep lines of communication open if you're Lawton.

You'd expect the same kind of magnitude from a Vinny trade; no disrespect to P.K. Subban, but you, sir, are no Peter Forsberg.

What's amazing is that there'd be any Habs fan who wouldn't pull the trigger for Vinny in exchange for the McKenzie proposition.

Yet the Habs official boards and blogs like The H Does Not Stand for Habs are full of panic about overpayment, both in what Montreal would be shipping out and the contract the Canadiens would be taking on. I heard a caller on NHL Live today bemoaning that Montreal's incredible depth would be damaged with this deal. Because, you know, it's always better to hold on to Christopher Higgins than trade him for Vincent Lecavalier.

It's simple: If this trade was ever going to happen, then you make the trade if you're Montreal; unless you believe the injuries that have nagged Lecavalier this season are going to be systemic. Because the road to the Stanley Cup has too many carcasses of deep teams that were "one No. 1 center away."

Not as if Vinny's going to end up being traded, mind you. Because even if OK Hockey doesn't have the dough to own the Lightning, trading a $10 million salary will end up costing the franchise more in fan apathy than it'll save in payroll.

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