Well, typically it takes a little time into the off-season, usually some time after the Cup Finals for it to get started. It even may last until just around the draft...but rest assured - before we hit July - Eklund and other hockey rumor mongers will have Vincent Lecavalier wearing the sweater of the Habs, St. Louis in St. Louis and Brad Richards somewhere else.
I like Eklund, he's got some of the top sources in the NHL and is respected throughout the league - but I'm sorry - stop reading that particular paragraph it has anything to do with Vincent Lecavalier, St. Louis or Richards doing anything but playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
I understand the rumors genesis. From the outside looking in, the Lightning are dreadfully top heavy, with a ton of money tied into only three players. How can they continue? Especially after management mandated that they will not be increasing payroll this season, and in fact, may be decreasing. How can the Lightning become anything but a first round exit without more evenly spread talent?
Its definitely a valid question. However, Jay Feaster has gone on record stating he will NEVER be the GM who trades Vincent Lecavalier. So unless the Montreal Canadiens want to trade Saku Koivu and half of their team - plus their #1 draft pick for the next ten years for Lecavalier - it's not going to happen. Then there's St. Louis - a fan favorite and honestly, the heart-and-soul of the hockey club. While Marty is older, he is a tremendous value to the franchise, and his play with Lecavalier is what got the Lightning into the playoffs in the first place. I don't see the Lightning moving a player that important to the franchise. Then there's Richards. Many felt that he was feeling the weight of his contract this season and gripping his stick a little too tightly - the truth of it is, he had no linemates capable of finishing.
The year before - Fredrik Modin, a 30-goal scorer, finished for Richards and his numbers showed it. This year, Ryan Craig or Ruslan Fedetenko and Eric Perrin were on Tampa Bay's second line. Craig is a 15 goal scorer at best. If Perrin gives you 5 goals in a season you're dancing a jig. And Fedetenko...who knows what the hell happened to him?
Richards began to look like himself again in the playoffs against New Jersey, when Bolts coach John Tortorella dropped St. Louis to his line. The team still believes in him and I don't think they'll give up on him. They think he's worth the investment.
So what will the Bolts do? Well, Marc Denis was obviously not the answer in Tampa Bay. He might be given a chance to redeem himself, but all signs seem to point to Tampa Bay admitting they fubar'd that deal and either eating a portion of his contract and cutting him loose or finding someone desperate enough to trade for him. So Tampa Bay will still need a goalie. Obviously, they won't have the green to compete for any top flight free agents, so I'd expect an older veteran in the Hasek or Belfour mold to compete with Johan Holmquist (if they can re-sign him) and young Kari Ramo for the job.
Tampa will also be on the lookout for affordable 2nd line scoring (Fedetenko is a goner) and defensive help, especially if they lose Corey Sarich as expected.
GM Jay Feaster definitely has his work cut out for him, especially with the restrictions put upon him by management. The support of the Lightning fan base is undeniable, selling out nearly every game this season - but Tampa Bay will need to continue to work on bettering their lease, exploring corporate participation, and maybe go ahead and bite the "Raise ticket prices" bullet to generate enough revenue for Owner Bill Davidson to stop worrying about the bottom-line and more about getting the Bolts back to the Finals.
Just don't look for any of the Big 3 to be moved to get them there.