GM Feaster: This was a hockey decision
The tone of the Lightning's press release carried with it a definite air of finality.
"They don't make hockey players like Dave Andreychuk anymore," GM Jay Feaster wrote. "From the moment he came to Tampa, he led by example and he helped our young players understand how to be professionals. There were times early in his tenure in Tampa when he carried the entire team on his back, and there is no doubt that his quest to win a Stanley Cup served as inspiration for his teammates during our championship run.
"He will always have a special place in our hearts here in Tampa and in the Lightning organization," Feaster added.
Feaster told ESPN.com on Tuesday afternoon that the decision to waive the team's captain was both difficult and emotional.
"Oh gosh, yes. It was very, very, very difficult. I respect him so much. This isn't David's fault and I don't think it's the organization's fault," Feaster said.
Andreychuk signed a two-year deal in the offseason but it's clear the new speed-based NHL game has left the slow-footed 42-year-old behind.
"After giving ourselves half a season to evaluate and analyze, it became clear to us that David's game was not suited to the 'new NHL,'" Feaster wrote.
The native of Hamilton, Ontario, has six goals and 18 points in 42 games this season. He has averaged 13:25 in ice time per game. He was a healthy scratch earlier this season, and it would be a huge surprise if any of the other 29 teams picked up Andreychuk and the balance of his two-year, $1.6 million salary.
In a nod to Andreychuk's importance to the club, especially during its Cup run in 2004, the Lightning opted not to force him to report to their AHL affiliate in Springfield.
"John Tortorella and I met with David for almost an hour on Monday and discussed a number of options," Feaster said in the release. "Were David to retire, the club would be relieved of its financial obligations under the contract. We felt that was not fair to David and his family and thus, in the end, our only realistic option was to place him on waivers today with the intention of assigning him to Springfield in the AHL once he clears those waivers but not requiring that he actually report. This enables David to continue being paid this season without having to actually play in the AHL."
The situation is different than that of Alexander Mogilny, who was waived last week by New Jersey. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said Saturday that he expects Mogilny to report to the team's AHL affiliate in Albany in the next few days if a trade with another NHL club can't be accomplished.
What will be interesting, however, is whether the Lightning will reconsider Andreychuk's services if he remains with the club.
Unless he's claimed by another team or traded, it's possible Andreychuk could be added to the team's playoff roster when roster sizes expand at the end of the regular season. He would not count against the cap at that point. Still, given the speed of the game and the team's struggles offensively, it's hard to imagine that Tuesday's move isn't the final one involving Andreychuk, who ranks fourth all-time in games played (1,639) and is the game's all-time leader with 274 power-play goals.
The move will no doubt send shockwaves through the Lightning dressing room. It comes less than five days after rumors first surfaced that Feaster was trying to deal Andreychuk and that in the absence of a trade, the team would waive him. After a 3-1 road loss to Buffalo on Thursday night, Andreychuk left in the middle of a scrum with reporters to sort out the rumors. He cornered Feaster in the hallway outside the Lightning dressing room and, after a minute or two, returned to say that Feaster told him he wasn't being shopped around and wasn't being placed on waivers.
After winning the first two games of a four-game road trip, the Lightning followed their loss to Buffalo by imploding against Boston, dropping a 6-3 decision Saturday. The Lightning entered play Tuesday in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 21-19-3 record but have lost eight of 11. New Jersey is currently ninth, while 10th-place Montreal is a point back with three games in hand.
Whatever the situation at that moment, Feaster has seen his hand forced by the defending champions' inconsistent play, prompting Tuesday's dramatic moves.
Still, Feaster said the decision wasn't a financial one, or one designed to be a wake-up call to his players, but a hockey one. The team has been built as a meritocracy, Feaster said, and it was difficult to continue to give ice time to Andreychuk given his struggles.
"You can't fool the guys in the room. Their B.S. meter is always set to bang-on," Feaster said.
But to keep Andreychuk on the roster and even further reduce his ice time or make him a regular healthy scratch would have created an even greater distraction, Feaster said. When it was clear that other teams weren't interested in obtaining Andreychuk, Feaster said waiving the captain became the only option. The GM met with the team Tuesday morning to tell it of the move.
With the Bolts tight to the $39 million salary cap, Feaster has little room to make a move of any kind. Andreychuk makes $800,000 this season and is set to earn $525,000 next season, meaning he counts $662,5000 against the Lightning's cap in both seasons (the average of the contract). By waiving and reassigning Andreychuk. the Lightning will clear about $330,000 on this season's cap.
It's clear the team is unhappy with its goaltending situation as both Sean Burke and John Grahame have struggled with consistency, trying to fill the void of Nikolai Khabibulin. There are goaltenders available, including Martin Biron and/or Mika Noronen in Buffalo.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.