NHL Free Agency 2013: Toronto Maple Leafs Should Pursue Vincent Lecavalier

Jon ReidCorrespondent IIJune 28, 2013

Vincent Lecavalier was bought out this offseason by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Vincent Lecavalier was bought out this offseason by the Tampa Bay Lightning.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Another domino has dropped during the NHL's compliance buyout period, adding another big name to the NHL free-agency pool in 2013.

This time it was Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who was dismissed by his club, as the Lightning desperately needed the cap space in order to fill out their roster.

The Lightning tweeted a kind farewell to their long-time centerman after announcing the news on their official Twitter page:

Part 1 of 3: “Vinny has been a significant reason for many of our past successes, including the 2004 Stanley Cup.” - Steve Yzerman

Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) June 27, 2013

Part 2 of 3: "His contributions to the community are immeasurable. The Lightning organization is indebted to Vinny."

— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) June 27, 2013

Part 3 of 3: “ We thank him for all he has done here and we wish him well as he moves forward."

— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) June 27, 2013

Lecavalier then responded in kind:

"I have the utmost respect for the Lightning organization...thank you Lightning fans for being with me thru thick and thin" - Lecavalier

— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) June 27, 2013

The 33-year-old Lecavalier will now be an unrestricted free agent who can sign with any team other than Tampa Bay when the free-agency window opens on July 5.

Enter the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto GM Dave Nonis has expressed his interest recently in making several moves this offseason to upgrade, and it's been known for quite a while now that Toronto is still searching for a No. 1 center.

With Lecavalier now hitting the open market, the Maple Leafs have the perfect opportunity to pick up a veteran player who is capable of giving two to three years of production on the top line.

Consider the points that people usually bring up in opposition to acquiring Lecavalier.

The first is his contract.

Well, with this buyout, teams now have a clean slate to work with in terms of a new contract. No longer are they bound to a lengthy, expensive deal.

The second is his age and declining production.

To those people, I'd like to point out that despite his numbers not being where they were at the peak of his career, he has still average 0.8 points per game over the course of his last three seasons (135 points in 168 games).

Compare that number to the production of Tyler Bozak (0.53 points per game) and Mikhail Grabovski (0.62 points per game) over the last three years, and it's actually very impressive and a definite upgrade.

Signing Lecavalier to a short-term contract that pays between $4.5 to $5 million per season may seem like an overpayment, but it would allow the Leafs to upgrade at center for a more reasonable price than Grabovski and Bozak (or what Bozak is demanding), and his contract would only be on the books for two or three seasons.

Signing Lecavalier would allow the Leafs to buy out Grabovski's contract, which will be on the books for another four seasons at $5.5 million a year.

Inking Lecavalier would finally give Phil Kessel a playmaking No. 1 center to play alongside, as well.

Toronto wouldn't just receive increased production from their first-line center, but it's also very likely that Phil Kessel would have an even better year than he did in 2013.

With Lecavalier's onerous contract now out of the way, the risk for any team to bring him in has sharply decreased.

If the Leafs were smart, they'd sign Lecavalier as soon as possible on July 5. It may not be easy—Pierre LeBrun of ESPN reports that 12 teams, and maybe more, may be interested in his services—but it's something the Leafs must pursue aggressively.