Fixing one of Paul Holmgren's final gaffes
It wasn’t always so bad for Paul Holmgren in Philadelphia. In the first couple years of his tenure as Flyers general manager, Holmgren brought in Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell for a draft pick that became Jonathan Blum, Braydon Coburn from Atlanta for the decaying corpse of Alexei Zhitnik, and Chris Pronger, a centerpiece for Philadelphia’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010.
Then it was a steady decline in the transactions department over the past couple seasons for Holmgren, who was promoted to president of the Flyers in early May. There were the trades of recently extended pieces in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, exchanging James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn, the terrible Ilya Bryzgalov contract, and sending Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus. While the return on the Richards and Carter deals were solid, Holmgren’s freewheeling approach to salary cap management has made him something of a punchline.
There’s reason for optimism with the arrival of former Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall as the new GM in Philadelphia, but his first order of business could be figuring out what to do with one of Holmgren’s final misplays: Vincent Lecavalier.
Lecavalier inked a five-year, $22.5 million contract with the Flyers last summer after the Tampa Bay Lightning used one of its compliance buyouts to escape from the final seven seasons of a massive 11-year, $85 million deal commitment to the former first overall pick. Lecavalier’s first season in Philadelphia was not great, and now he’s the subject of trade speculation.
Thinking trade on Lecavalier is all well and good for the Flyers, but will there be much of a market for a 34-year-old in the throes of decline who’s owed $18 million over the next four years?
In a league where the cumbersome contracts of Scott Gomez and Roberto Luongo can be dealt, no one is truly untradeable. Still, it’s hard to fathom a situation where the Flyers walk away without picking up a portion of the tab on Lecavalier or bring back much of a return.
Lecavalier scored 20 goals in 2013-14, which marked the 13th time in his 15-year career when he scored 20 or more. The trouble with Lecavalier is that he’s no longer a great player at even-strength. He dipped to 1.5 points per 60 minutes in 5v5 situations, which was down substantially from his average of 2.1 P/60 (5v5) over the previous six seasons. A career center, Lecavalier shifted to left wing with the Flyers and found himself relegated to the fourth line in the postseason. While Lecavalier’s possession totals continued a downward trend, his linemate Wayne Simmonds enjoyed a breakout 60-point season. Simmonds was slightly better without Lecavalier than he was with him, too.
The Flyers are flush with young talent down the middle, thus another kick at a fresh start for the four-time NHL All-Star and former Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner would be best for everyone. Now it’s up to Hextall to find a dance partner and a deal that works.
If there’s any kind of silver lining to Lecavalier’s relatively disappointing 2013-14 season it’s that he still appears to be a fairly effective power play performer. He saw his power play time dip with the Flyers from his usage in Tampa, but he managed to score eight of his 20 goals with the man advantage. There’s something left in the tank, but nothing worth five-years and $22.5 million.
Could the Montreal Canadiens pin hope on some Quebecois magic and try to add size and skill with Lecavalier? Would a trip to a smaller market like Nashville or Arizona allow him to move into a bigger role with some anonymity?
The Flyers don’t have much leverage in this situation, and Lecavalier has a no-movement clause that he’ll have to waive for any potential deal. Welcome to the challenge of the post-Holmgren era, Hextall.