NHL NEWS: Vincent Lecavalier signs with Philadelphia Flyers

Image courtesy of thescore.com.

As per TSN, former Tampa Bay Lightening star Vincent Lecavalier has signed a 5 year, $22.5m contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Bought out by Tampa Bay at the end of last week, thanks to his $7.727m cap hit until 2020, Lecavalier was nonetheless expected to have several teams clamouring for his services.  Dallas, Calgary, Montreal and Boston were all rumoured to be in the running, with nary a mention of the fiscally-challenged Flyers, but it emerged yesterday that the former Rocket Richard winner had indeed chosen Philadelphia as his destination.

This was surprising news, particularly given the Flyers’ well documented cap issues even despite their buyouts of Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov.  It was not also believed that a star forward, particularly an elder one such as Lecavalier, was high on their list of needs or wants, with defence and goaltending being such a question mark.

Image courtesy of buzzonbroad.com.

Financial aspects aside, what have the Flyers acquired exactly?  Well, it’s safe to say that Lecavalier isn’t the superstar he was for a few years between 2002 and 2008 anymore.  In that time frame, he scored 192 goals and 419 points in 404 games — a 1.04 PPG pace — whilst being regarded as one of the best offensive forwards in the game after starting his career out somewhat inconsistently for a former 1st overall draft selection.

To put that into context, over that span only 4 other players scored more points than he did: Marian Hossa, Daniel Alfredsson, Jaromir Jagr, and Joe Thornton.  He was also tied for 4th in goals scored during that period too with Marian Hossa, behind only Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk.

He helped Tampa win the Stanley Cup in 2004, played in 3 NHL All-Star Games, won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2007, and had a 108 point season that same year.  He was also named the winner of the King Clancy Trophy for Humanitarian work in 2008.

Since 2008, he hasn’t been bad by any stretch, but 110 goals and 272 points in 327 games — a 0.83 PPG rate — isn’t nearly the same torrid pace he’d previously set, placing him only 41st in the league for points and 45th in goals.  He hasn’t won any individual or team awards since 2008, except for being named to the All-Star Game in 2009.

Image courtesy of foxsportsflorida.com.

It’s not like he fell off a cliff stats-wise though.  0.83 points per game in this day and age is still a highly respectable total, working out at approximately 68 points over a full season.  Until this season, thanks to the lockout, he also had a streak of 12 straight 20+ goal seasons, and would have been on pace to match that total this year if it weren’t for a combination of the work-stoppage and injury.  In fact, injury has kept him from putting up more impressive totals in each of the last 3 seasons, only playing 168 of a possible 212 games.

It would also be worthwhile to examine how his underlying numbers have looked the last couple of seasons.  By using Rob Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, we can see that Lecavalier was playing in relatively tough situations — against above average competition and with an offensive zonestart % not much over 50% — and coming out on top in shot differential, though not quite dominating it.  The situation was pretty much identical in his 2011-12 season too.

All signs point to Lecavalier still being a very useful 2nd line center, able to play reasonable minutes at 5v5 and a tonne at 5v4, and not being a defensive liability.  He is also a pretty good face-off guy, averaging 51.46% in the dot since 2008, and was 5th on the team in hits last year (2nd among forwards).

Many are lambasting the Flyers for this deal, and whilst it is a very odd move, $4.5m is actually a very reasonable amount for a guy like Lecavalier – just not great for a team in the Flyers’ position.  At 33 he is certainly on the down slope in his career, but for the time being he is still a very good NHLer and it will be fun to see how he gets on – though not seeing Vinny in a Lightning uniform for the first time since 1998 will be extremely strange indeed!

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