The days preceding the NHL Entry Draft are engulfed in a maelstrom of trade rumors and free agency speculation during a normal year, but the additional wrinkles of compliance buyouts and a condensed schedule following a lockout-shortened season have only inflated the rumor mill. The latest report came earlier today from ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, and it concerns the Sharks:
A long list of teams have inquired on Lecavalier and San Jose is among the teams that will keep tabs on that situation...— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) June 28, 2013
Vincent Lecavalier is the most notable name in compliance buyout purgatory as the Tampa Bay Lightning used the new collective bargaining agreement's amnesty clause yesterday to rid themselves of the remaining 7 years and $45 million of their captain's contract. Since then, he's been linked to Montreal, Detroit and a dozen other locations but it's still somewhat surprising to see the Sharks emerge as a player in the Lecavalier Sweepstakes (or, more accurately, a team "that will keep tabs on that situation," which is admittedly more vague). Ignoring the Sharks' complete lack of salary cap space prior to accounting for a Martin Havlat long-term injury exemption and reports that have surfaced indicating Lecavalier's desire for a multi-year contract, the star center seems like a pretty good fit in San Jose and not just to right the colossal wrong of trading the pick used to select him for Bryan Marchment.
As we've repeated ad nauseam in our season reviews, far and away the Sharks' biggest issue in 2013 was their inability to score at even-strength as San Jose finished 28th in the league in 5v5 goals during the regular season and followed that up with just 14 5v5 goals in 11 playoff games. No one player can singlehandedly fix that but Lecavalier has an impressive track record as a top-flight even-strength scorer. Lecavalier has potted at least two points per 60 even-strength minutes in five of the past six years (including each of the last two), a clip that only Logan Couture and Brent Burns managed among Sharks forwards this season. Lecavalier's even-strength scoring rate since 2008 ranks 37th among NHL forwards, better than any Shark over that span and in similar territory to the likes of Eric Staal and Corey Perry. Even at 33, the dude can score with the best of them at five aside, something that's perhaps been overlooked as Steven Stamkos surpassed him on the Bolts' depth chart. In terms of fit, the only question is where yet another center would slot into the lineup but Lecavalier does have a bit of experience playing the wing in Tampa Bay and Joe Pavelski could always be moved back to the right side.
The issues that would surround the Sharks signing Lecavalier are mostly financial. After re-signing Jason Demers to a $1.5 million one-year deal, San Jose has $3.57 million in cap space remaining and they'll need to ink at least two forwards and a backup goaltender. Lecavalier's new contract won't carry the $7.7 million cap hit his old one did but he's likely seeking something in the $4-5 million range and some team will give that to him. Unless they make a trade or are willing to gamble that either Havlat will remain on LTIR for the vast majority of the season or can be unloaded as soon as he's medically cleared, that team won't be the Sharks. Additionally, as productive as Lecavalier has been in the recent past, father time isn't kind to NHL players on the wrong side of 30, making a long-term deal like the one Lecavalier is reportedly seeking a pretty substantial risk. That's especially the case because Lecavalier doesn't provide much in the way of defensive value and likely won't see time on the first power play unit barring injury.
Doug Wilson is a notorious tire-kicker so, in that sense, perhaps it shouldn't be shocking that the Sharks are monitoring Lecavalier's trek towards free agency. But barring a major salary-moving transaction, which is certainly possible on the draft floor, I can't really see how this would work. And from the perspective of the Lecavalier camp, unless he's dead set on staying out of a media fishbowl, there's no real reason to pick the Sharks over the Red Wings or Canadiens, both of whom are able and presumably willing to make bigger offers. Lecavalier is still a great player, and would certainly be a more palatable option than someone like Daniel Briere, but the chances of him landing in San Jose seem pretty slim at the moment.