The Lightning Buy Out Vincent Lecavalier

In a shocker, Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier will be bought out after 15 years as the face of the franchise. The salary cap has no time for sentiment.

The Lightning payroll needs to be trimmed, and the 33-year-old Lecavalier had seven years remaining on his deal, with a hit of more than $7 million annually. He'll still be owed roughly $30 million, but won't count against Tampa Bay's cap.

The first overall pick in 1998, Lecavalier is the Lightning's all-time leader in games played and goals scored, and helped lead Tampa Bay to its first and only Stanley Cup in 2004. Now? He's the best and most intriguing free agent on the market.

GM Steve Yzerman anounced the buyout with a statement today:

"Vinny has been a significant reason for many of our past successes, including the 2004 Stanley Cup, and his contributions to the community are immeasurable. The Lightning organization is indebted to Vinny; we thank him for all he has done here and we wish him well as he moves forward.

"After much internal deliberation, we believe this will prove to be a pivotal move for us as we strive to achieve our long term goal of competing at the highest level, year-in, year-out. The economics and structure of the CBA are necessitating this decision and we at the Lightning are excited at the newly created opportunities this presents to us."

If Larry Brooks is to be believed, the Lightning didn't want this to happen, and tried to exploit a CBA loophole. Brooks claims the Lightning planned to trade Lecavalier (and assets) to the Maple Leafs, who would use their compliance buyout on him. The Lightning would then sign Lecavalier to a shorter, cheaper contract. The league did warn GMs against trying to get around the spirit of the buyout, but denies it was spurred by a proposed Lecavalier trade.

As it is, we're two years away from a Lightning without either Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis, and that's not an NHL I'm prepared to face.

Update: Some interesting trivia, from Sportsnet's Jeff Marek: