TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - The Tampa Bay Lightning are buying out the contract of center Vincent Lecavalier, a move that will create salary cap space and make one of the stars of the franchise's only Stanley Cup champion a free agent next month.
Lecavalier was the first overall pick in the 1998 NHL draft and helped Tampa Bay win the NHL title in 2004. He is Tampa Bay's career leader in goals and games played.
The four-time All-Star spent 14 seasons with the Lightning and was team captain for much of that time.
General manager Steve Yzerman said Thursday that using a compliance buyout allowed by the NHL's collective bargaining agreement will provide financial flexibility that will provide an opportunity to improve the Lightning roster for the long term.
The buyout will cost more than $32 million over 14 years.
``Vinny has been a significant reason for many of our past successes, including the 2004 Stanley Cup, and his contributions to the community are immeasurable,'' Yzerman said in a statement released by the team. ``The Lightning organization is indebted to Vinny; we thank him for all he has done here and we wish him well as he moves forward.''
Lecavalier, who was owed about $45 million over the next seven seasons, will become an unrestricted free agent on July 5. He will be able to sign with any team except Tampa Bay.
Under the buyout, he will receive two-thirds the value of his existing deal spread over twice the term of the contract.
``After much internal deliberation, we believe this will prove to be a pivotal move for us as we strive to achieve our long term goal of competing at the highest level, year-in, year-out,'' Yzerman said. ``The economics and structure of the CBA are necessitating this decision and we at the Lightning are excited at the newly created opportunities this presents to us.''
Lecavalier led the NHL with 52 goals during the 2006-07 season. Besides franchise-bests of 1,037 games played and 383 career goals, he also is Tampa Bay's all-time leader in power play goals with 112 and game-winning goals with 60.
The move saves $7.727 million in salary cap space next season.