If the Los Angeles Kings are betting on Vincent Lecavalier’s sense of integrity and his word, and they are, then they’re betting on the right guy. Lecavalier’s all-world talents have declined to be sure, but one thing that has not is his reputation of being a man of his word and an all-round stand-up person.
So when Lecavalier assured the Los Angeles Kings that he would retire after this season, thereby making it possible for the Kings to acquire him and defenseman Luke Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers yesterday, that was obviously good enough for the Kings. Because the fact is, Lecavalier could throw this entire thing off the rails by waking up tomorrow morning or any other between now and the end of this season and decide he actually wants to keep playing beyond this season and there’s not a thing the Kings or Flyers could do about it.
Lecavalier has two years left on the five-year, $22.5 million he signed with the Flyers in 2013. The deal calls for salaries of $3 million each year (including a signing bonus of $500,000 next season), which means Lecavalier is turning his back potentially on $5.5 million by retiring. The first thing that comes to mind is that this deal reeks of salary cap circumvention, but what makes it legitimate is that Lecavalier’s stated intention to retire is not binding in any way.
“If he changes his mind tomorrow, it’s the Kings problem,” said one source with intimate knowledge of the deal. “He has a contract. Whatever that contract says is binding on the club.”
NHL deputy commissioner backed that up in an email to thn.com in which he said: “The trade and the stated intentions were brought to the league in advance. Nothing about the transaction either violates or is even contrary to the spirit of the CBA.”
Chances are that if Lecavalier decided to keep playing, he would be bought out after this season anyway. That would mean he’d receive $3.7 million, but his cap hit would be on the books for both the Flyers and Kings for the next four years. Since the teams are now splitting his salary, a buyout would cost each team about $1.45 million in salary cap space next season, $1.25 million in 2017-18 and $459,000 each of the two seasons after that.
There are all kinds of theories out there about the deal. But the reality is the Kings needed Schenn to replace the injured Matt Greene and if Lecavalier is true to his word, could be a useful shutdown center to go up in strictly a defensive rold against Western Conference studs such as Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews and (now) Ryan Johansen, which would leave Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter more matchups that will favor them.
Lecavalier waived his no-trade clause to get the deal done, which means it is no longer in effect. So that would leave Kings GM Dean Lombardi free to send Lecavalier to the minors if things don’t work out. But that’s not going to happen because Lombardi wouldn’t do that and Lecavalier could simply say he’s changed his mind about retiring if he’s sent to the minors.
This deal was made yesterday while Flyers GM Ron Hextall was sitting on the runway waiting for the team charter to leave for Minnesota, but the seeds of it have been germinating for quite some time. Lecavalier, in fact, pondered actually retiring before this season, but was encouraged to stay on to see if he might find a role under new coach Dave Hakstol. That was answered early in the season when Lecavalier was a healthy scratch for the Flyers first eight games. In Game No. 9, he played just 7:16, including just three shifts in the third period, one in the last seven seconds after an empty-net goal. All told, a back injury and healthy scratches limited Lecavalier to just seven games this season.
What this deal does is allow Lecavalier to leave the game, not on his terms, but on more favorable terms. “There is no more to this deal than what you see at face value,” said Lecavalier’s agent, Kent Hughes. “It gives Vinny the ability to leave the game the right way.”
And when you’ve made the kind of money Lecavalier has, turning your back on $3.7 million is a small price to pay. Over the course of his career, Lecavalier will have made a total of an incredible $130.8 million, which includes $36 million from the Lightning to not play for them.
With performance bonuses, Lecavalier made $7.9 million on his entry level deal. He then signed a four-year deal that paid him $6.425 million. His next deal with Tampa Bay was for $27.5 million, then came the 11-year, $86 million deal he signed with the Lightning. He earned $40 million of it playing for the Lightning, then had $8 million more in signing bonuses and was bought out for a total of $24 million. Then came his current deal, a five-year deal worth $22.5 million, of which he’s going to collect $17 million.
In fact, Hughes said when Lecavalier signed his 11-year deal with Tampa Bay in 2009, he knew he would retire before the end of the deal and pegged his retirement for after the 2016-17 season, which was why his deal had salaries of just $4 million, $1.5 million and $1 million the last three seasons. As it stands now, that schedule has been bumped up by a year.
And if Lecavalier can contribute in a small way to the Kings winning another Cup, it will all be worth it for him. And one of the truly good guys in the game will get to leave it under much better terms.