Count the Washington Capitals among the numerous teams interested in impending unrestricted free agent Vincent Lecavalier. Coach Adam Oates met with the veteran center on Saturday to explain why Washington would be a good destination for him.
“He fits into our puzzle,” said Oates, who worked with Lecavalier during the 2009-10 season as an assistant coach in Tampa Bay. “I think that’s an important thing and I said that to him. ‘You’re in a unique situation. You get to choose where you want to go make sure you choose a puzzle that fits.’ ”
Last week, when the Lightning announced that it would use a compliance buyout on Lecavalier, the captain and long-time face of the franchise, he instantly became the most sought-after player in this year’s crop of free agents.
The list of teams that reportedly met with Lecavalier this weekend include Washington, Philadelphia, Montreal, Dallas, St. Louis, Detroit, Calgary, Toronto, Boston and Anaheim.
“Vinny’s a guy that, one of the things I really respected about him is, he wanted to play against the best players every night,” Oates. “He wanted the responsibility of playing against their best D, every night, handling that pressure, game in and game out. I think he’s a guy that, the day happens when we go four rounds, he’s a guy that will be standing there at the end of four rounds. I think that’s why a lot of teams are after him.”
Tampa Bay opted to buy Lecavalier out of the remaining seven years on his previous 11-year, $85 million contract that carried an annual salary cap hit of $7.7 million. While the buyout won’t count against the salary cap, the Lightning will pay him a little more than $32 million over the next 14 years.
After 14 seasons in Tampa Bay, Lecavalier is suddenly looking for a team that he could close out his career with. Oates knows that there’s always some shock when players are unexpectedly forced to change organizations for the first time and that was part of what they discussed.
“He’s been Mr. Tampa Bay Lightning. We talked a little bit about that yesterday because how was he feeling about that? It’s an emotional time when you get traded, bought out, have to move the first time, especially when you’ve done what he’s done for that franchise. He’s got to turn the page and be professional and he is a very classy guy, professional, a good hockey player. And he’d fit in great with us.”
Lecavalier, 33, is reportedly looking for a long-term contract that would take him to the end of his career. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the target is believed to be four or five years with an average value of $5 million.
It’s unclear whether the Capitals would be willing to give Lecavalier that term, which is the same as what Mike Ribeiro is targeting. Ribeiro, who provided long-sought center depth for the Capitals during the lockout-shortened season, is expected to test the free agent market and it appears unlikely that he will re-sign in Washington.
An elite playmaker with size, Lecavalier would certainly boost Washington’s depth at center and add an amount of skill that is often difficult to find in free agency. At this stage, though, it’s tough to tell whether the Capitals are a true contender for his services given the amount of interest.
“Adam talked to him and we’ll see where it goes. Adam likes him a lot,” General Manager George McPhee said Sunday. “Just wanted to have a conversation with him. Adam knows him, I think he wanted to know more about us.”