If nothing else, the Tampa Bay Lightning's front office appears to be learning from their rookie mistakes of last summer. Unfortunately, the Phoenix Coyotes have reached their quota for assuming other teams' bad contracts after taking Radim Vrbata(notes) from the Bolts, so Tampa announced it's going to have to buy out the remaining three years of Vaclav Prospal's(notes) contract.
Prospal's deal last summer is never included with the Lightning's other head-scratchers, but four years and $14 million should qualify. Not for the cap hit, which was a reasonable $3.5 million, but for the four-year commitment to a journeyman enigma who was actually on his third tour of duty with the Lightning.
Of course, his status as one of the "Big Three" with Marty St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier(notes) earned him trust and loyalty. But Marty had 80 points last season, Vinny had 67 in an injury-riddled year and Prospal managed just 45 and was a minus-20.
Damien Cristodero of Lightning Strikes explains the near future of Prospal, who has to decide if he'd like to be placed on waivers:
If he does not want to be put on waivers, the buyout immediately takes effect and the player is an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team. If he prefers to go on waivers, another team can claim him at the full value of his salary. If he is not claimed, the buyout takes place and the player is free to sign with any team. Prospal, a good friend of captain Vinny Lecavalier, had just bought a new home in the Tampa Bay area.
Ouch. Maybe the Buccaneers are hiring. Bottom line is that an available Prospal moves to the head of the class for remaining free-agent centers, and he can obviously play the wing too. His price and contract duration will have to come down, but he could be an asset for a team that needs some secondary scoring.
At least until he's traded back to the Lightning for Round 4.
If the buyout goes through, then Tampa will have "a salary cap hit of $1.167 for the next six seasons," according to Erik Erlendsson of Bolts Report. This decision hasn't really been speculated upon publically during the summer, so the sense is that there may be another skate to drop after buying out Prospal's contract. Tampa has been sniffing around Alex Tanguay(notes) the last few weeks, and that would be an upgrade over Prospal.
Of course, true to form, the Bolts could just use the savings to sign four or five more defensemen.