Thursday, January 15, 2009

Vinny 4Ever

As long as Vincent Lecavalier is from Quebec and as long as the team currently known as the Tampa Bay Lightning plays in Florida, we are going to have to deal with rumors that Vinny is on the verge of being traded to the Montreal Canadiens. This has been a simmering pot since the day he was drafted number one over all by the Lightning back in 1998. Sometimes that pot gets a little hotter. Lately, it's threatened to bubble over.
Management, specifically general manager Brian Lawton (sort of) says there's nothing to the rumors. "To suggest we're engaging in conversations to trade him or we're shopping him to all teams in the National Hockey League is completely inaccurate." Unfortunately, management has yet to do very much to gain trust from the fans. Between the Dan Boyle trade and the Barry Melrose experiment (or whatever the hell that was) and various other missteps, there's simply not enough credibility established to grant them the benefit of a doubt at this point. As a result, fans are more nervous about this flare-up than they have been in the past.

Let me just say here and now that if Koules and every single member of his management team do not resoundingly reject any and all trade offers they may get for Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa's days as home to an NHL franchise will be numbered. The future won't be in jeopardy, it will be over.

People like to cite that even Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time, was traded by the Edmonton Oilers and that's true. But over 20 years later, Edmonton is still recovering from it. A little closer to home, we have the NBA's Orlando Magic, a franchise that still hasn't regained the luster it lost when Shaquille O'Neal left in 1996. While the Oilers and Magic still exist today, and have even enjoyed measures of recent success, they're identified as teams that great players left behind. I don't believe the Lightning would even survive to that degree.
Think about what would have happened if the Buccaneers had shipped out Derrick Brooks or Mike Alstott at the age of 28. Now take into consideration that hockey isn't remotely as entrenched in the hearts and minds of Tampa Bay fans as NFL football is. Lecavalier is the one Lightning player that casual fans can name. He is quite literally the face of the franchise (an overused phrase if there ever was one, but extremely apt in this case). Most Lightning fans have already picked out the spot in the rafters where the banner will be hung when he retires and nobody ever wears #4 again. He won the Stanley Cup here. He holds virtually every significant franchise record. He made a $3-million dollar commitment to a pediatric cancer center at All Children's Hospital. Make no mistake; trading Vinny would be an atomic bomb of negative public relations. If you doubt this as true, thinking I'm overstating the situation, please bear in mind that there are people (dumb people, sure...but people) out there who are still bent out of shape that Nikolai Khabibulin isn't on the team anymore...and it was his idea to leave (and he hasn't done squat since). Think about season ticket renewals. Think about sponsorship agreements. Think about the overall value of the entire franchise dropping right off the edge of the table with a few strokes of a pen. Brian Lawton, Owen Koules, Len Barrie...just think about it. Please.
(For more..and better...insight into this situation, please visit Boltsmag)

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