UPDATE- Vincent Lecavalier agreed to a five year 22.5 million dollar contract with the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday.
The last Canadiens general manager to deal with the possibility of Vincent Lecavalier in a Montreal uniform characterized the situation as going “sideways and backwards”. Bob Gainey was understating a 2009 sequence of events that was fraught with incompetence, dishonesty and outright unethical double dealing that led to frustration among fans of the Canadiens.
Circumstances surrounding Lecavalier may have changed but the end result of the experience for present day Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin may come to the same frustrating end.
I assume everyone knows Lecavalier is an unrestricted free agent thanks to that Tampa Bay Lightning buyout. Bergevin has said his interest in signing him is “Pretty high.” On a scale of 1 to 10 he admitted that interest is at least an “8”.
Does that mean we’re going to go through the embarrassing and fruitless process that Gainey endured in January of 2009? Well, not quite. It’s hard to match what Gainey endured four years ago.
Let me refresh your memory. In December of 2008, Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton reportedly mentioned to Gainey that under certain circumstances, Lecavalier might be available in a trade. Obviously Gainey was interested. Who wouldn’t? At the time, Lecavalier was 29 and only 2 years from his Rocket Richard Trophy winning 52 goal season.
In early January somebody, (consensus says it was Lawton) then leaked the trade talks to Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger of TSN. McKenzie tweeted “there has been steady and consistent dialogue with general manager Bob Gainey and the Montreal Canadiens.” Also leaked was the names of the players the Canadiens might be willing to give up on their end of the deal. Initially they were Chris Higgins, Tomas Plekanec and Josh Gorges. Then, after his showing at that year’s world junior tournament, P.K. Subban’s game was included along multiple first round picks.
By the leak, it was clear that Lawton was unethically trying to set up a bidding war for Lecavalier by revealing whatever closed door discussion he was having with the Canadiens. The only reason anyone could come up with for even entertaining initiating talks like this was a kind of ‘buyer’s remorse’ over the eleven year 85-million dollar contract signed with Lecavalier the previous summer. Included was a no-trade clause that was due to go into effect in July and the team ownership Oren Koules and Len Barrie were verging on bankruptcy.
Well, then it got really crazy. This was blockbuster territory and everyone knew everyone else’s secrets.
Montrealer’s of course loved the possibility of the return of a hometown hero. In Tampa there was unanimous anger and backlash. The Lightning were trading the player who led them to a Stanley Cup. The local papers called Lightning management “front office cowboys” who were prepared to damage the entire credibility of the franchise by trading away it’s most popular player.
Under that kind of local pressure Lawton caved and lied about there ever being a trade conversation. Lawton said he never had any interest in making a trade despite the fact that, at one point, Lecavalier admitted he had been approached by him about the possibility.
At the same time Gainey said at no time had trade negotiations never reached the point of naming specific players; that those mentioned through the leaks were a sort of Lightning wishful thinking. After the season Gainey accused Lawton of destabilizing his team by naming names. Lawton denied he was the source but members of the media confirmed he was in fact guilty-as-charged.
What goes around, comes around….as they say.
Within a year, the Oren Koules and Len Barrie were forced to sell the team to Jeff Vinik who promptly fired Lawton. In hockey circles Lawton proved himself to be unscrupulous and untrustworthy. He has not come close to getting a second chance.
As for the nuts and bolts of the trade. Can you imagine, if it had gone through the way Lawton pictured? The Canadiens without Plekanec, Gorges and/or Subban plus lost first round draft picks (Pacioretty?) and on the other side the Habs landing a Lecavalier who’s talents proved to be on the decline through a series of wrist and shoulder injuries.
Which brings us to this week. No longer capable of giving value to his contract, the Lightning have subjected Lecavalier to the indignity of a buyout. After 14 years in the league, he is now selling himself to the highest bidder. The Canadiens are one of them. Some say he has no interest in subjecting himself to the pressure of playing in Montreal after years of relative hockey obscurity in Florida. That, along with a Canadiens offer that won’t match the level of financial foolhardiness of which we know other NHL general managers are capable, probably means Montreal fans are going to be disappointed for a second time.