Lecavalier trade rumors: The ultimate psychological warfare?

"[Vincent Lecavalier is] not being traded today, he's not being traded tomorrow or anytime soon." -- Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton, Jan. 15

As that maudlin romantic Morrissey once asked, "How soon is now?" Lawton summarized the Lightning's stance on the recent outbreak of rampant Lecavalier speculation, which officially hit ludicrous speed when the hockey media starting chasing down leads that Vinny wouldn't be paid on time. As if, you know, the Zamboni's up on cinder blocks on the lawn in front of the St. Pete Times Forum or something.

But as Lightning Strikes writer Damian Cristodero mentioned, all Lawton did was restate the obvious to anyone not paying attention and to Montreal Canadiens fans with delusions of grandeur:

The team is not shopping Lecavalier. That has been reported. The team always listens when another team calls with trade proposals. That has been reported. Lawton called "a fair comment" for people to wonder how the team, in the current world-wide financial climate can afford to pay Lecavalier's new 11-year, $85-million contract extension. That has been reported. Lawton even added, "It's not true. We signed him with the intent of him being here."

And whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the Lightning indeed have had internal discussions about whether the team is better off with Lecavalier or the assets he could bring in a trade. That is not an outrageous statement. Any team struggling as badly as Tampa Bay SHOULD have that discussion. It is the right thing to do.

As we said before, there's a difference between listening to teams' pitches and actually dealing Vinny, which would be marketing suicide on the level of putting Hooters girls in burkas (putting it in terms Tampa Bay fans will understand).

But in a week of delightfully batty speculation about Lecavalier (Lucic for Vinny!), Cristodero offered a really inspired theory this morning: That the Vinny talk has lingered just long enough to become a rallying cry for the embattled Lightning, as they make their push for the (gulp) playoffs.

From Lightning Strikes:

Perhaps rallying is a little too strong, but there certainly is a sense in the locker room that the players, who have listened to the trade rumors involving Vinny Lecavalier, would rather the core group not be disrupted, especially now that they believe they are starting to come together with a 7-4-1 streak.

Said forward Ryan Craig: "We're all teammates. We don't want to see anyone from our group go, especially our leader and captain."

Said goaltender Mike Smith: "These are our brothers in here. This is our family. We don't want to see anything happen to our core group. ... To even think about trading a guy like that I don't know. He's the face of this franchise. He's been here since he's 18 years old."

What can the players do? "Winning," Craig said, "solves a lot of problems."

Here are the facts: The Lightning are nine points out of a playoff spot, with a game in hand on the Carolina Hurricanes -- who showed just how unstable the last few spots in the Eastern Conference are with their inspiring loss at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs last night.

The Lecavalier trade talk has hit its boiling point at a time when the Bolts are about to play 11 of their next 14 games at home; and, truth be told, they're playing better if still wildly inconsistent hockey (5-4-1 in their last 10).

Let's assume, for a moment, a heretofore undetected level of psychological ingenuity from Tampa Bay management. What if the Lecavalier rumors were allowed to gestate and linger in order to bring the team together in a way that firing Barry Melrose or shipping out Radim Vrbata couldn't?

It's like a page out of the Michael Scott office managerial handbook: The workers are so frustrated and disenchanted with the mismanagement of the business that you give them a common enemy; in this case, a grim economic outlook and bumbling bosses. Start turning those profits around, or the office party is canceled and we're taking away the coffee maker!

(Completing this "The Office" analogy would be comparisons between Steven Stamkos and Ryan the Intern, Olaf Kolzig and Andy Bernard, and Gary Roberts and Creed Bratton.)

One assumes this is giving the Koules/Barrie administration too much credit, and it probably does. So maybe this is just an unintended benefit to this week's orgy of scuttlebutt.

If nothing else, we're learned that Lecavalier will still be in Tampa Bay tomorrow. And that at least one U.S. NHL franchise's checks are still clearing, which no doubt saddens the good people of Hamilton.

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