Random thoughts on the eve of the eve of the NHL draft in Newark:
I gave up being surprised about NHL salaries a long time ago. But I have to admit I’m flummoxed at how, after being bought out of his contract by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vincent Lecavalier is already being projected to sign a three-year deal worth about $5 million a season. And that’s almost a week before free agency begins. That price certainly won’t go down if more teams start getting involved in the process.
So let’s say Lecavalier gets three years at $5 million per. That means that with his signing bonus from the Lightning – $3 million, $3 million and $2 million over the next three years that isn’t subject to the two-thirds buyout provision – plus his buyout money, Lecavalier will make $9.8 million, $9.8 million and $8.8 million in the next three seasons.
But apparently $5 million is the going rate for a former 20-goal, 50-point man in his 30s with a history of injuries and skills that are clearly in decline.
If that happens, fans around the NHL will, once again, be totally justified in wondering why we all missed three months of hockey this season. And it will also prove, once again, that there is absolutely no system the league can put in place that can force owners and GMs to show restraint. But most of all, whoever signs Lecavalier, whether it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings or somebody else, will essentially be making the same mistake the Lightning made on a smaller scale.
* Along the same lines, Kris Letang has apparently turned down an offer from the Pittsburgh Penguins that would pay him an average of almost $7 million a year over the next eight years.
Now a player is entitled to demand whatever he thinks he is worth and if Letang thinks he merits being paid an average of $7.5 million a season on a long-term deal, then all the more power to him. But if he truly thinks he merits that kind of money, perhaps he might want to go back and watch tapes of this year’s Eastern Conference final.
If Letang were to sign for an average of $7.5 million, that would, at least for the time being, give him the third highest annual cap hit in the league for a defenseman behind only Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and ahead of Zdeno Chara, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson and Duncan Keith. The Penguins believe Letang is worth no more than $7 million a year on a long-term deal.
And Penguins GM Ray Shero is nothing if not decisive. We saw that at last year’s draft when he dealt Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes with a year still left on Staal’s deal. The player turned down a 10-year, $50 million contract, so Shero dealt him immediately. That backdrop could make things very interesting on Saturday and Sunday in Newark.
* Like the Super Bowl, the draft rarely lives up to the hype. If you walk around the team hotels in the days leading up to the event, it would be easy to buy into the notion that the draft floor was going to see a dizzying flurry of blockbuster deals and there would be no end to the intrigue and excitement.
And it rarely lives up to that billing. Will this year be any different? It certainly feels that way. With a salary cap that will be taking at least a temporary dip, as well as talk of buyouts and extensions and things so much in flux, the names are flying around at a frenetic pace. But there we go again, buying into all the hype.
Will there be some deals? Without a doubt. GMs have essentially moved their trade mode from the trade deadline to the draft, so there will undoubtedly be some big deals made. But if all the trades that are being thrown out there are consummated leading up to draft day, it will be the most exhausting day in the history of the NHL.
Count on it being somewhere in the middle.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.