Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 6/29/13
NEW YORK The Florida Panthers missed out on an opportunity once already to acquire Vincent Lecavalier. Fifteen years later, they are going to take another shot at getting the playmaking center into their lineup. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon and assistant GM Mike Santos intend to make a pitch to sign the unrestricted free agent and fomer Lightning captain. "We've got young big centermen that would learn a lot from him, so yeah, we've got some interest," Tallon said. "Hopefully he has some interest as well. That's the way it starts. It takes two to tango. If he doesn't want to come, so be it. But I think there could be some open dialogue there and it would be a benefit to our franchise as far as him being able to help our young guys develop." The Lightning officially removed Lecavalier from its reserved list Saturday, giving other franchises permission to speak with the center. Tallon said he has not yet talked to the former Stanley Cup champion or his agent, but Santos indicated calling Lecavalier is very high on the team's to-do list. "We could speak to him now, but we wouldn't be able to sign him to a contract until July 5, like any other free agent," Santos said. "I'll certainly speak with him. I'd be foolish not to look into something like that." During the 1997-98 season, Florida traded its first-round pick to San Jose for center Viktor Kozlov. The Sharks ended up shifting that selection to Tampa Bay in a three-player deal. The Panthers finished with the second-worst record in the league but won that year's draft lottery. Florida's dealings ultimately put the top pick in the hands of its intrastate rival, and Tampa Bay used the selection to draft Lecavalier. But Tampa Bay, which inked its captain to an 11-year, 85 million contract in 2008 to assure he'd retire in blue and white, shocked the hockey world Wednesday by using one of its two compliance buyouts on Lecavalier. The Bolts will owe its former captain 32.667 million over the next 14 years. That breaks down to approximately 2.25 million per year. The Panthers have lined up several selling points which could draw Lecavalier to Sunrise, Fla., a major one being income tax. Santos estimated Lecavalier could save 8 to 10 percent a year on Tampa Bay's payout by remaining a Florida resident. The only other states with NHL teams that do not collect income tax are Texas and Tennessee. The Dallas Stars reportedly met with Lecavalier Saturday afternoon for an hour. Additionally, there is the close-to-home factor. The distance between Lecavaler's doorstep in Tampa to the BB&T Center in Sunrise amounts to a total of 252 miles 3 12 hours by car and even less by plane. "He's a real good family man," Santos said of the 14-year veteran. "He's got a young family. And having a home in the Tampa Bay area, I know he's been a big part of that community for a long time, including his own foundation with children's hospitals." There's also the benefit of remaining in the Eastern Conference and a realigned division, which will allow the Ile Bizard, Quebec-native to play a guaranteed minimum of two games against his hometown Montreal Canadiens. Lecavalier spent 14 seasons in Tampa Bay, winning a Stanley Cup with the team in 2004. He leads the franchise in games (1,037), goals (383), power-play goals (112) and game-winning goals (60). Lecavalier captured the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league's top goal scorer in 2007 when he tallied 52. Lecavalier entered this last lockout-shortened season as a 12-time consecutive 20-goal scorer. He has reached the 30-goal plateau five times. Although the 33-year-old's numbers have declined since his 52-goal, 108-point season in 2006-07, the Panthers believe he brings leadership and a valuable skill set to a relatively young roster. "Is he better than what we have in the center position now? Probably," Santos said. "We certainly aren't going to wait this out forever. But right now our focus is on the draft tomorrow."
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