Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Memo to Lightning Brass - Trade Vinny and They'll Be Hell to Pay...

By JC De La Torre

Trade winds are blowing in Tampa Bay and I don't like it one bit. The Canadian press is buzzing about the possibility of Vincent Lecavalier being pried out of Tampa Bay and into the sweater of the most revered franchise in hockey, the Montreal Canadiens. Lecavalier to the Habs is nothing new. Every year there are rumors about Lecavalier and Montreal simply because the fans and media of the Canadiens have a long distance love affair with the French Canadian. Montreal hasn't had a French Canadian superstar in quite some time and has lusting over Lecavalier since former Lightning Owner Art Williams called him "The Michael Jordan of Hockey". Most of the rumors were unsubstantiated B.S....but for some reason, this time feels a bit different.

TSN's Darren Dreger stated in his January 13th column
, "The discussions have taken place (between Lightning Ownership and the Canadiens); however what Tampa owners are wrestling with is the short term financial impact of such a bold move versus the long-term hockey benefits expected in the return."

Considering this is the same group that signed Dan Boyle to a mega-deal during the 2007 season only to trade him the next off-season and who traded Brad Richards even after they said they wouldn't, its difficult not to believe the chatter. Rumors are also rampant that the ownership group, OK Hockey, is struggling to meet the financial demands of owning a sports franchise and this may be some money making venture.

"These questions and rumors, I've been getting them my whole career," Lecavalier told the St. Pete Times, "I've been getting a lot of phone calls from friends back home, people wondering what's going on. I tell them they're rumors. That's about it."

Oren and Len...don't do it or they'll be hell to pay. Its not about Lecavalier, players come and go - its about trust. Its about loyalty. Its about having your fans believe in what you are doing because bottom line - if there's no fans, none of you make money. If there are no fans, you won't get TV or radio deals. If there's no fans, there's no franchise. The Tampa Bay fans came into your ownership with an open mind. We were tested when you traded Brad Richards, but allowed it to pass because it meant we'd keep Dan Boyle and received a decent goalie in Mike Smith. We were tested again when Stanley Cup winning head coach John Tortorella was fired for-of all people-Barry Melrose. We were tested once more when Boyle was dealt away for -of all people- Matt Carle. We were tested yet another time when management went crazy, signing every forward with a pulse. We were tested for the final time when Melrose was canned and Rick Tocchet was elevated. There are so many tests one fanbase can take.

The St. Pete Times' Columnist Gary Shelton said it best, "If the team trades away Vinny Lecavalier, it is also trading away one of the last reasons to believe in it. " Vincent Lecavalier is one of the last remaining shreds of dignity this franchise has. He is still one of the elite players in the league and at 28 is entering his prime. The fans know Vinny, they identify with Vinny, he is without question the face of the franchise - its greatest player in its history. When you think of the Lightning, you think of Lecavalier. If he is gone, what is left to believe in? I could take Richards. I didn't like it but I understood the god awful salary cap situation the hockey team was in. I could even take Boyle - I thought it was a horrible deal for Tampa Bay, San Jose fleeced them, but it was pure and simply a salary dump to make up for the spending frenzy during free agency. I hated the firing over Tortorella - it was an awful decision made worse by the hiring of the scumbag Barry Melrose. I totally agreed with the firing of Melrose and understood that Tocchet was the only one of the staff qualified to take over for the interim. But not Vinny.

I could take the team trading away Malone, Smith, Martin St. Louis, Prospal (again), pretty much anyone on the roster - but not Vinny. Trade our 1st round pick...our next five first round picks - but not Vinny.

I pledge to you one thing - if Vincent Lecavalier is traded from the Lightning - I WILL NOT PURCHASE ANOTHER TICKET FOR A LIGHTNING GAME AS LONG AS OK HOCKEY REMAINS IN OWNERSHIP. If Lecavalier is dealt, I won't watch the team on TV, I won't buy their merchandise, and I damn sure won't blog about them until OK Hockey sells. The Lightning will be dead to me. Its not about "being a fan of the jersey, not the players". Its the principle of the thing. The jersey is not treating me, the fan, right and I'd rather devote my hard earned income to a franchise that is - be it the Rays or the Buccaneers (but that's another gripe for another post). If the franchise only cares about making money, has no interest on the on-ice product or its image around the league or its integrity among the fanbase, why should I waste my time on them? At this rate, the franchise will be in Quebec City or Hollywood or Vegas or somewhere other than here. Maybe that's the end game for these guys, maybe they want to ruin this hockey club, destroy the fan base and relocate it somewhere closer to the next SAW movie.

Oren or Len...I don't know if you're reading this or if you even care but I implore you to show this fanbase that you care. Do not trade Lecavalier. If you need to cut costs, find other avenues other than trading our best player. I'm not the only one who feels this way. Listen to the sports radio shows or read the newspapers comments sections online or other bloggers like myself. You've had a series of bad mistakes, we know - it happens. You guys are new at this and you're bound to foul up a few times in the early going. But this goes well beyond a mistake. This would be the death knell for the franchise, something it may take a decade to recover from. Sure, the automatic cop-out was "Gretzky got traded, anyone can be..." but this is different than Gretzky. As much as he meant to the Oilers franchise, it was still going to be supported after he was gone. The league wanted it to happen because they wanted the NHL to succeed in the second largest market in America. He wanted to leave to be closer to his new wife, Janet Jones. The Oilers still had Messier, Fuhr, and the dynasty of four Stanley Cups. The Oilers lived on past Gretzky.

Lecavalier is the franchise in Tampa Bay, without him - we have nothing. There's nothing left to make us believe in YOU the ownership or who you've hired to run the team or the collection of players you've assembled.

We have reached a crossroads. For you as owners, we as fans, for the Lightning as a viable franchise. Not Vinny, Len and Oren. Not Vinny.

2 comments:

Bill Brister (bill {dot} brister70 {at} gmail {dot} com) said...

I find it hard to believe that if the Bolts trade Vinny, they lose you as a fan. Where were you when Gretzky went from Edmonton to LA, what about when Thornton went from Boston to San Jose?

How could trading a player for talent that may better the team as a whole be "bad for the fans" ... when, after all, we wanna win the Cup again?

Are you saying you would rather Vinny stay in Tampa and we continue to lose ... than us use Vinny and his value to retain a wider talent pool? (current rumors have Vinny's value @ 3 players and a couple draft picks!)

I can understand your frustration and I understand your passion ... but seriously, am I to believe that ONE player is the key to you watching or not watching Hockey?

JC De La Torre said...

Bill,

I love hockey and you know what - it probably is an idle threat - with that said, I'll be extremely ticked off if Lecavalier is moved.

As I said, its not really about Vincent. Its about trust. Everything this ownership group has done has blown up in their face - why should we believe this would be any different? Further, the implication of signing him to a long term deal was that he was going to be the catalyst of the rebuilding effort. Yet a few months later, these guys trade him away?

As a fan, you need to draw the line somewhere - and its here. This is the line in the sand - you trade Lecavalier - there's going to be consequences. I'm not in the minority in this feeling.

Thanks for your comment!