Vincent Lecavalier said Monday it was a “him or me” situation in Philly between himself and coach Craig Berube, an indication of how much the center’s situation with the team has deteriorated. Lecavalier’s contract is a cautionary tale, but the temptation of a quick, veteran fix will always sucker in some GM/team owner under pressure.
Just two years into a five-year, $22.5-million contract, Vincent Lecavalier’s days with the Flyers appear to be numbered. There may be a chance he’ll stick around if Craig Berube – Philly’s head coach, with whom Lecavalier is at loggerheads with over his role – is shown the door in the off-season, but there’s also a chance both could be gone by the time training camp arrives.
With the 34-year-old Lecavalier struggling to put up points – his offensive production of eight goals and 20 points is down nearly 50 percent from 2013-14, when he posted 20 goals and 37 points – the Flyers will almost certainly find it difficult to trade him this summer and may have no choice but to buy him out of the final three years of the deal. That will leave Philadelphia with a salary cap hit of be $2.889 million in 2015-16 and 2016-17, $2.389 million in 2017-18 and $889,000 each season beginning in the fall of 2018 and running until the summer of 2021. That’s a at least a decent roster player (if not two) every season the franchise will have to do without, because management decided to use a good deal of their cap space on a big name strictly because he was a big name. For a fleeting moment, it boosted the Flyers’ pride to say they outbid everyone else for Lecavalier, but it didn’t take long at all for reality to intrude on them and paint a more stark picture of what they could expect for him.
Lecavalier’s saga in Orange & Black should give all teams pause to think twice about signing veteran NHL stars in their thirties to long-term pacts, but experience tells us it won’t.
Indeed, it wasn’t just the Flyers who were pursuing Lecavalier in the summer of 2013: his agent, Kent Hughes, said at the time he’d received overtures from a half-dozen teams, and franchises including the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings were rumored to be interested in his services. But Lecavalier chose Philadelphia, and the Habs and Wings are very thankful he did.
Unfortunately, teams won’t learn the lesson the Flyers have learned with Lecavalier. Heck, it’s highly unlikely the Flyers will learn the lesson the Flyers have learned with Lecavalier. There is so little player movement in the league these days – so many long-term contracts young stars in their prime sign with the team that drafted them – that teams who envision themselves as near the precipice of being either playoff contenders or Stanley Cup frontrunners will succumb to the temptation that comes with a brand name player. They will tack on one or two extra years to a free agent’s contract (as the Leafs did with Stephane Robidas last summer) to separate themselves from the other suitors and almost inevitably regret it.
There’s nothing wrong with adding a veteran player to put you over the top or help your organization turn the competitive corner, but engaging in a bidding war for most thirtysomethings and handing them four-or-five-year contracts is like playing with fire while wearing underwear made out of matchsticks. You might be able to dance around the flames for a little while, but before you’re through, your chestnuts are very likely to roast.