The Habs cap situation appeared to put to rest all talk of Vincent Lecavalier coming home to wear the CH, but the most recent twist in the Tampa Bay Lightning's ownership soap opera could very well put the wheels of this rumour back in motion.
First, a look at the Canadiens tight cap situation.
Guillaume Latendresse signed a one-year contract with the Habs, the team announced today, and according to RDS the deal is worth $803,000.
That's a cut in pay from the $850,000 Latendresse earned this season, which many people will likely feel is warranted, but is still shocking for a 22-year-old player who still has his best years in front of him.
Bob Gainey obviously had the knowledge that Latendresse would likely take just about any offer rather than hold out for a richer deal, so getting that kind of a discount from a homegrown guy is not that great of an accomplishment.
Still, considering the tight finanacial quarters Gainey has put himself into, saving any amount of money on a signing has to be considered a bit of a coup.
According to nhlnumbers.com the Habs cap space sits at just under $6 million when the Latendresse signing is accounted for with Tomas Plekanec, Matt D'Agostini and Gregory Stewart left to sign as restricted free agents. That number includes the $500K due to Kyle Chipchura and the $942,000 cap hit for Ryan O'Byrne, both of whom could possibly start the season in Hamilton, but does not include the $875,000 contract of Max Pacioretty, who will likely make the team.
In any case, getting that kind of a discount on Latendresse was clearly vital if Gainey has any hope of having some wiggle room to account for injuries once the season starts, or even before that.
Gainey mentioned prior to the start of free agency that he didn't want to spend all his money in one shot because he didn't want to find himself in the same situation as the summer of 2006, when he signed Sergei Samsonov and didn't have any money left for Jean-Pierre Dumont when he suddenly became available after arbitration.
A potential situation like that came up when the Blackhawks looked like they may have had Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg become unrestricted free agents because the team botched their qualifying offers, but both ultimately re-signed with the team, likely for more money than the Blackhwaks were willing to give.
Now, it appears that the Lightning may once again come back to bite Gainey in the ass. The St Petersberg Times reported Tuesday that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has imposed a $10 million cash call on Lightning co-owner Len Barrie with a deadline for this Friday.
Why is this important? Well, if Barrie is unable to come up with the cash by the end of the week, it's entirely possible he will be pushed out of the rocky ownership relationship in Tampa and the reins of the team will be handed to Oren Koules. If previous reports are to be believed, Koules wants to keep costs down in an attempt to make the team more profitable (which never works, because no one wants to go watch a team with no stars), and that process would begin by shipping out Lecavalier.
Yes, there's that name again.
Lecavalier's new 11-year, $85 million contract kicked in on July 1, and along with it came a no-movement clause, which essentially means he would need to give his approval of a trade. So, in that sense, his situation hasn't changed a whole lot since that media firestorm around the all-star break when everyone assumed Lecavalier to Montreal was a natural denouement to the Lightning's financial difficulties.
But if Barrie is indeed pushed out Friday, which is far from a sure thing as he attempts to sell a portion of his Bear Mountain Golf Resort and Spa on Vancouver Island, then the possibility exists that Lecavalier would become available on the trade market, and Gainey's biggest commodity in those talks - cap space - would be all dried up.
There is a school of thought out there that the Canadiens would be better off without Lecavalier and more specifically his contract, which could prove to be an albatross as Lecavalier's body looks to be wearing down. Yes, he's only 29, but he's been in the NHL since he was 18, so he's an old 29. Still, Lecavalier's lineage makes him a uniquely attractive commodity to the Canadiens, enough of one that Gainey and the organization would likely roll the dice on his health.
With a $7.73 million cap hit, the Habs would have to send salary the other way in order to make any potential trade for Lecavalier work, but the Lightning are interested in shedding salary so it's doubtful they would be interested.
However, this is where the structure of Scott Gomez's contract becomes interesting. His cap hit is $7.36 million, slightly lower than Lecavalier's, but in terms of actual dollars being paid out Gomez is a far more affordable option. Lecavalier is due to be paid $10 million a year for the first seven years of his contract, while Gomez is due $8 million for the next two years, $7.5 million in three years and then $5.5 million and $4.5 million in the final two years of his contract.
So, over the next five years, the Lightning would save $16.5 million in salary with Gomez as the No. 1 centre instead of Lecavalier even though the cap difference between the two is negligeable. If they were to agree to take Gomez and a package of prospects in exchange for Lecavalier, the Lightning could tell their fans they received a quality player in return who could bridge the gap between Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos as the team's top centre, while also saving a good chunk of change in the process.
I'm not sure if Brian Lawton would agree to a deal like this, especially since suitors will be plentiful for Lecavalier's services, but financially it may still be an interesting option for him. As far as Gainey's concerned, trading Gomez is the only option that remains if he still wants to get Lecavalier, and he'll likely have to gut the organization in order to do it because in the end it will have cost him Chris Higgins, Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko plus two or three quality prospects he'd have to send Lawton's way.
I feel it's an unlikely situation, and this whole discussion could be moot if Barrie remains a co-owner of the team. But it would appear that despite Gainey's heavy spending and apparent turning of the page on Lecavalier, this is a rumour that could very well survive the summer.