As the Tampa Bay Lightning stumble toward their first non-playoff finish in five seasons, GM Jay Feaster can expect to face a busy summer.
Despite speculation incoming owner Oren Koules might replace Feaster once his purchase of the club has been approved and finalized by the league, it appears Feaster could remain for at least another season, giving him the opportunity to rebuild the Lightning into a playoff contender.
Feaster will have lots to do, as the Lightning lack depth both on defense and in secondary scoring, but perhaps his most important move this summer will be attempting to re-sign Vincent Lecavalier to a contract extension.
Lecavalier has another season remaining on his current deal paying him $7.167 million (counting as $6.875 million against the Lightning’s cap) giving Feaster the luxury of time to re-sign him.
Still, the last thing Feaster, Lecavalier or the Lightning need is the uncertainty over his contract status dragging on throughout next season and becoming an unnecessary distraction to this rebuilding club.
It would make sense to re-sign him at this summer’s rate for players of his caliber rather than risking a rise in his value over the 2008-09 season.
It’s possible Lecavalier could seek an extension worth the same as his current contract, like Jarome Iginla did last summer when he re-signed with the Calgary Flames, or a slight increase, as Joe Thornton did when he re-upped last July with the San Jose Sharks.
But given how much Lecavalier’s performance has improved and his value to the Lightning has increased since he signed his current deal in August of 2005, it’s also possible he could seek a significant raise.
Lecavalier finished third in points last season, winning the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal-scorer.
This season he’s currently among the league’s top five in total points and is on pace to finish the season with more than 95 points. He won’t win the Richard Trophy again this season, but he still leads the Lightning in goals, points, power play goals and game-winning goals.
That kind of performance could land Lecavalier a raise that has him making in the neighborhood of $9-10 million per season.
If the Lightning aren’t willing to pay that much this summer to retain him, it could cost them significantly more at this time next year to keep him out of the 2009 UFA pool, where he’ll be guaranteed to land over $10 million per season from another team.
The Tampa media has voiced concern over Koules’ long-term plans for the Lightning and where Lecavalier fits into them.
By agreeing to re-sign Lecavalier this summer, Koules would sooth a nervous fan base and provide Feaster – or his potential replacement – with the franchise player to rebuild around.
A new contract for Lecavalier won’t begin until July 2009, thus it won’t affect the Lightning’s available cap space this summer.
It’s been reported Feaster hopes to begin contract talks with Lecavalier this summer and the star player is believed to be willing to listen to Feaster’s offers, which is a positive sign heading into the off-season.
Lecavalier also reportedly enjoys living and playing in Tampa Bay, where he’s not only the face of the franchise, but also an active member in the community, particularly with his charity work.
That bodes well for the Lightning’s attempts to keep him in the fold, and could also go a long way toward helping Feaster keep his job beyond next season.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, www.spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.