Lecavalier adds spice to UFA center crop

What was shaping up to be a not terribly deep nor exciting July 5 free-agent crop is getting some intriguing names added by the day.

Vincent Lecavalier brought some pizzazz to the unrestricted free-agent festivities Thursday. After the Tampa Bay Lightning announced they were buying out Lecavalier's contract, the star center joined goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Danny Briere as players bought out and thrown into the UFA mix.

Lecavalier, 33, adds a tempting option in a UFA center class that otherwise was led by the likes of Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro and Stephen Weiss. At the right price, Lecavalier would be one heck of an addition as the No. 2 center on a good team.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Lecavalier’s buyout to be announced for people to link him to his native Montreal. Let’s be honest: It would be cool to see him in a Canadiens uniform after all these years of trade rumors linking him there.

Two questions need answering, though. Do the Habs have interest? And would Lecavalier be willing to play under that kind of spotlight?

One of the reasons Tampa Bay suited him so well was that it isn’t a hockey fishbowl.

“Too early [to tell],” one source told ESPN.com Thursday regarding Montreal’s potential interest.

Indeed, much can happen between now and July 5, with other players being made available via buyout or trade. The landscape is shifting quickly.

I’d be shocked if the Lecavalier camp, led by agent Kent Hughes, didn’t get interest from at least a dozen teams. At the right price, he’s a stud, and this isn’t a great year for free-agent centers. And you still can’t teach 6-foot-4.

Just my own guessing out of the gate, not based on any sourcing ...

• The Detroit Red Wings need a No. 2 center as talks with Valtteri Filppula are headed nowhere. While Weiss also could be an option, Lecavalier would make a lot of sense.

• The Chicago Blackhawks? Cap space is at a premium and re-signing pending UFA Bryan Bickell is the priority. But, man, would Lecavalier ever fit well there, especially because you know Michal Handzus isn’t the long-term answer at No. 2.

• What about Lecavalier’s former coach at Tampa Bay, John Tortorella, who is in his first offseason as coach of the Vancouver Canucks?

• The Toronto Maple Leafs have been looking for a legitimate center with size for about a million years.

We will see a lot of teams linked to Lecavalier because, frankly, a lot of teams could use him.

The Lightning did not come to this decision lightly. I believe this was a very difficult move for general manager Steve Yzerman to make.

But at the end of the day, the ability exists under the compliance buyout provision in the new CBA (two per team for the next two offseasons) to extricate oneself from a cap-killing contract. And at $7.72 million a pop for seven more seasons, Lecavalier was a cap hit the Lightning just couldn’t live with.

More of a concern for any team with these types of long-term, front-loaded deals that are remnants of the old CBA is the "recapture" rule, which is part of the new CBA. For example, had Lecavalier retired before the end of his deal, Tampa Bay would have faced salary-cap charges moving forward.

It’s why the New York Rangers are debating whether to buy out center Brad Richards. It’s why the Canucks should buy out goalie Roberto Luongo if they can’t find a trade partner.

A source told ESPN.com Thursday that the Canucks don't want to buy out Luongo. They could trade him if they're willing to eat part of his deal or take back a player who's also a cap anchor for another team. Vancouver also could waive Luongo at some point and hope that another team takes him.

Letang update

My colleague Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune created a bit of a stir in Toronto when reporting late Wednesday that if Kris Letang can’t agree to terms on an extension with the Penguins, Toronto would be near the top of his trade destinations. Rossi does a solid job covering the Pens, but Letang’s agent, Kent Hughes, was adamant no such trade destination conversations had taken place and clearly was not happy with the story.

“Our focus has been on negotiating a contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins and we have not discussed the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Hughes told ESPN.com via email Thursday morning. “He remains under contract for one more year if we don't extend his contract. We are not the source of the story, nor were we contacted to verify its accuracy beforehand.”

The Penguins have made Letang a substantial offer, but obviously it was not enough; otherwise he would have signed it.

So the clock ticks. Would general manager Ray Shero really allow Letang to enter next season in the final year of his contract? Shero would get way more in a trade this summer than he does at the trade deadline next season.

It's worth noting that the Leafs are in the market for a top defenseman, so if Letang becomes available, it'd make sense for Toronto to be among the suitors.

Tick tock ...

Speaking of the Pens ...

Great job by Shero to get Chris Kunitz signed to a three-year extension worth $3.85 million per season. That's a good value. Kunitz has one more year on his deal at $3.75 million, and he would have been a UFA in July 2014.

Credit to Kunitz and agent Ben Hankinson, too. Maybe Kunitz gets more money elsewhere, but you like where you're playing and you've found chemistry with Sidney Crosby, so why throw that away? It's not always about the money.

Kunitz will be 34 in September, which means he'll be 37 entering the final year of this extension. Getting a three-year term was the real prize for Kunitz and Hankinson.