Vincent Lecavalier arrived in Tampa Bay surrounded by lofty expectations. He departs the Lightning with plenty of options.
The 33-year-old center joined a talented crop of unrestricted free agents Thursday when Tampa Bay announced its decision to buy out the remainder of his 11-year, $85 million deal, as reported by ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun. The Lightning still owe Lecavalier a whopping $32 million on the contract, which would've kept him with the team through 2020.
He was the No. 1 overall draft pick by the organization in 1998 and lifted a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004. Now on the open market, Lecavalier will immediately attract his share of suitors.
Taking salary cap, team expectations and location into consideration, here's a look at five teams that should be lining up for his services.
Detroit is constantly seeking ways to upgrade its roster without taking a step backward. That approach has been paramount during the Red Wings' run of 22 straight postseason appearances.
The organization has nearly $11 million in cap space, and Lecavalier didn't waste time expressing interest in playing for Detroit.
"If you just think about the Detroit Red Wings, it's actually a team I grew up idolizing," he told USA Today. "Ironically, Steve Yzerman was my favorite hockey player."
The former Detroit star now serves as general manager in Tampa Bay and actually called Lecavalier to notify him of the buyout. Ironic indeed.
Lecavalier was a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League superstar and would immediately return to his home turf as a fan favorite. The Canadiens are searching for ways to improve after an ugly first-round exit against Ottawa.
Montreal finished second in the Eastern Conference in 2013 and may view Lecavalier as a piece that puts the team over the top. The former NHL scoring leader would also provide an experienced winner for a Canadiens team that has only enjoyed mild success in recent memory.
The Canucks have a significant connection with Lecavalier. New head coach John Tortorella, hired quickly after the New York Rangers kicked him to the curb, coached the Lightning to an NHL title in 2004.
During the seven full seasons he sat on the sidelines in Tampa Bay (2001-2007), Lecavalier scored at least 32 goals six times and exceeded 75 points on five occasions. Tortorella understands the offensive firepower the former Lightning captain brings to the ice and could sway the front office to join the hunt as he looks to make his mark on a roster in need of a makeover.
Vancouver is currently less than $1 million under the salary cap, per Cap Geek, but there are cost-cutting maneuvers the Canucks are bound to make in order to gain some financial flexibility this summer.
Calgary is another organization with meaningful ties to Lecavalier's NHL background. Flames general manager Jay Feaster held the same position in Tampa Bay during the first half of the center's career.
Feaster joined the Lightning front office in 1998, the same year Lecavalier was drafted. He won league executive of the year in 2004, when the team won a title, and stayed on with the organization until his 2008 resignation.
Calgary could use some firepower after unloading franchise legend Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline. The Flames, who are $19 million under the cap, would regain some trust with the fanbase by acquiring a player of Lecavalier's stature.
The Devils are desperate for a roster upgrade after going down in flames during the final stretch of the regular season. New Jersey lost captain Zach Parise through free agency last summer and simply needs to make moves this offseason.
Lecavalier has dominated in Eastern Conference play at times during his career, and the Devils are lacking on the offensive end. New Jersey has approximately $25 million to work with, according to Cap Geek, giving the front office plenty of opportunity to attack the free-agent market.
Plus, landing Lecavalier could go a long way toward convincing coveted Devils free-agent forward David Clarkson to remain in Newark.