TAMPA - The Lightning did not drop leaflets from planes after the club bought out Vinny Lecavalier, but they did email a letter to each and every season ticket-holder, trying to explain the move, the primal economics behind it. It was an unusual measure, and all in the name of Vinny's Sasquatchian Lightning footprint.
The letter ended:
Vice President and General Manager
Yzerman's handwriting is all over the Lightning's future. That said, he owns it. It's on him.
Once upon a time, two (very, very) different Lightning general managers, Jay Feaster and Brian Lawton, publicly stated they wouldn't be the GMs who moved Vinny. Well, Yzerman just did, double daring the marketing gods. Vinny is now a Flyer, of all things. In the letter, Yzerman rightly called the Vinny buyout a "pivotal move" in the name of long-term progress.
Does Stevie Y have an 'X' on his back, apply heat here?
I wouldn't go that far.
Still: It's on him.
Getting rid of Vinny has raised the stakes.
Now there's one less obstacle. There are no significant salary cap demons.
Yzerman better deliver.
Friday, the chase to replace Vinny didn't seem to yield much. Yzerman went to the Red Wings well and paid $25 million over five years for Valtteri Filppula, fairly overboard for a guy who had only nine goals and 17 points in 41 games last season.
True, Filppula had 23 goals and 41 assists two seasons ago - Vinny's neighborhood. But he seems more like a No. 3 center about to be paraded out as a No. 2, a temporary solution, a stopgap. Is that next season for the Lightning?
OK, keep the hot seat handy.
Yzerman's run as Bolts GM began spectacularly, to the brink of the Stanley Cup Finals. But now he's on his second head coach, and third and fourth goaltenders (or is it fourth and fifth?) and the Lightning have missed the playoffs for two seasons. Do I hear three?
Yzerman has always talked about "long term" and admits that this Vinny move might mean a step back at first, though I'm not sure he really believes that last part. So, why should we? It's about Now.
I like Yzerman. I believe he knows what he's doing.
But it's on him now. All roads lead to the GM.
Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is such a believer he just gave Yzerman $32.7 million to buy out Vinny. Yzerman, by his own admission, stepped outside of the box by losing Vinny without a replacement in place. But in his mind, the Vinny move was inevitable, so why wait another season?
Yzerman has believers all over the dressing room, including Steven Stamkos and captain-to-be Marty St. Louis. I wonder, even now, if Marty would have asked for a trade last season if a coaching change hadn't been made midstream. He seems in a good place now, but couldn't that change if things don't come together?
Much rides on whether either of Yzerman's choices, Anders Lindback and Ben Bishop, work out as a true No. 1 in goal. I think the Lightning still need more help on defense. All these years later, they're still trying to find a Dan Boyle (great Cowboys move there, eh?). Real help on D was asking for too much for this offseason, I guess. So was a true No. 2 center, I guess.
I understand moving Vinny. But it's about what's next. Right now, what's next is Filppula, who, while four years younger than Vinny, has 11 fewer 20-goal seasons.
In Philadelphia, Vinny will wear No. 40 and not know if he has a No. 1 goalie - again.
Here? The Lightning GM has stocked the farm with talent, especially at forward, once a dry gulch. Friday, the Lightning signed third overall pick Jonathan Drouin, who seems the real deal, and better be, since the Bolts passed on Seth Jones, the top-rated defenseman in the draft.
Yes, Steve Yzerman's handwriting is all over this franchise. That means they won't need to dust for fingerprints if it doesn't work.