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St. Louis talks delayed in wake of Vinny's deal

MVP's agent asks the cap-strapped Lightning for time.

By TOM JONES
Published August 19, 2005


The frosty negotiations between the Lightning and star forward Martin St. Louis dropped a couple more degrees Thursday when St. Louis' agent postponed a meeting with general manager Jay Feaster.

The reason, it appears, is St. Louis is reeling from teammate Vinny Lecavalier's lucrative deal that has not left enough salary-cap room for the Lightning to pay St. Louis what he believes he deserves.

After winning the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP in 2003-04, St. Louis figured to hit the jackpot. But after signing Lecavalier to a four-year, $27.5-million deal Tuesday, the Lightning cannot afford to give St. Louis much more than $4.5-million a year.

Reached at his office in New Jersey, St. Louis' agent, Lewis Gross, said Thursday's meeting was postponed so he could meet this weekend with St. Louis, who is outside Vancouver for the Canadian Olympic hockey camp until Saturday. Gross said he plans to contact Feaster next week.

Feaster did not speak to the media Thursday but did release a statement through the team's public relations department:

"Lewis Gross, agent for Martin St. Louis, advised me that he felt our meeting would be more productive if he could spend the next few days analyzing Vincent Lecavalier's new deal and its effect on both our team payroll matrix as well as its effect on structuring a fair deal for Marty. He said he would phone us in a few days to resume the process. Given that Lewis had asked for the meeting in light of our making another offer to Marty last Thursday, we have no problem giving him the additional time he has requested. It is a process, and the process will continue. We remain committed to getting Marty signed."

The Lightning made several offers to St. Louis last week, including what is believed to be a long-term deal worth between $4-million and $5-million a season. After reviewing the offer, Gross set up a meeting with Feaster for Thursday. But then came the Lecavalier signing.

"Everybody's doing the math. It's not rocket science to see what it means," Lightning forward Brad Richards told reporters at the Canadian Olympic hockey camp. "I'm very good friends with both guys. It's a tough, tough situation."

With a Stanley Cup and an MVP award fresh on his resume, St. Louis appeared to have hit the perfect time to negotiate a new contract. But then came the lockout that produced the NHL's new salary cap and forced some teams to identify a marquee player they could not afford to lose. For the Lightning, that player is Lecavalier. St. Louis may be the reigning MVP, but Lecavalier is considered to have more upside, and that's the reason the Lightning is paying him like a franchise player. Lecavalier is 25 and 6 feet 4, and the feeling is his best years are ahead of him. St. Louis is 30 and 5-8 and could have a difficult time repeating his career year of 2003-04.

St. Louis and Lecavalier, also from the Canadian Olympic camp, said they have no hard feelings toward one another despite speculation that St. Louis is miffed over Lecavalier's deal.

"I'm really happy for him," St. Louis said. "I have no problem with Vinny. I like Vinny."

St. Louis congratulated Lecavalier upon hearing the news, but both admitted Lecavalier's signing will affect St. Louis.

"We talked and everything was fine," Lecavalier said. "Marty's a great guy, and I hope we play together for a long time."

That remains to be seen. St. Louis has five options:

Sign a guaranteed long-term deal for less than $5-million a season.

Sign a one-year deal for about $4-million, then become an unrestricted free agent.

Request a trade.

Sign an offer sheet with another team, forcing the Lightning to match the offer if it wants to keep him.

Hold out.

It's unlikely another team will make St. Louis an offer for two reasons. One is most teams don't have the salary-cap room to give St. Louis the more than $5-million annual salary he likely is seeking. And, two, if the Lightning did not match the offer, St. Louis' new team would owe the Lightning stiff compensation, perhaps as many as four first-round draft picks.

Asking for a trade doesn't solve St. Louis' problem of finding a team willing to pay him what he thinks he is worth. He could hold out, but then he doesn't get paid, and the room under the salary cap would dwindle as the Lightning signed other players. St. Louis has repeatedly said he likes the Tampa Bay area and the organization, so his best options appear to be signing either a long-term or one-year deal with the Lightning.

Another factor for the Lightning to consider is leaving room to re-sign Richards and Pavel Kubina next summer when they become free agents. It could be that Gross and St. Louis are buying time to review Lecavalier's contract and predict what the Lightning's payroll might look like a year from now to see if the Lightning can find more money for St. Louis.

In the meantime, the Lightning waits for St. Louis' next move.

"Now we're in a cap world, you have to try and fit everybody," St. Louis said. "It's a tough situation."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.