Lecavalier: "The worst year in a long time"
Space is a precious thing in newspapers right now. There isn't a lot of it, especially for a sport that, in this area, anyway, is no longer in season. So, for the next few days I'll be putting up some of the interviews done with players on Monday after they had their exit interviews. Given the Lightning's biggest decision this summer, or as former Tampa Bay coach Jacques Demers called it, "probably the biggest decision in franchise history," will be to either keep captain Vinny Lecavalier and try to build around him, or to try and trade him, figured starting with him would be appropriate.
If you did not read the story in today's paper, Tampa Bay ownership and management needs to decide before Lecavalier's no-move clause kicks in on July 1 if it wants to trade him and reap the riches such a transaction could bring and perhaps remake the team. It is all about money, of course. The Lightning expects next season to carry a payroll of between $43 million and $45 million. Lecavalier's new 11-year, $85-million contract will pay him $10 million. That's almost a quarter of the budget. So, the table is set for a great debate in the Tampa Bay front offices that will culminate at the June 26-27 draft in Montreal. Imagine the deals the team will have to consider.
Anyway, Lecavalier declined comment on that whole situation, but he did talk about several other things.
On the surgery April 4 on his right wrist that cleaned up some damaged cartilage, the same kind of arthroscopic procedure he had in the summer of 2007 on his left wrist: "At this point, 10 days, when it was my left wrist, this is feeling a lot better."
On last season, the second in a row without the playoffs: "Just a frustrating year. It was tough on everybody, coaching staff, players and management. ... Overall, it was the worst year in probably along time. We just couldn't seem to win that six or eight games out of 10, or 15 out of 20, to get back in the race. We weren't really there. Sometimes when you get a little taste of being close to being in the playoffs, you get that extra motivation and you can win 10 in a row or eight and get into the playoffs. It just seems like we weren't there ever. That's what made it really tough."
On coach Rick Tocchet: "I think guys responded to him very well. Obviously, it doesn't show in the results, but he wants to change the culture. He wants to do it right, and I think the coaching staff did a great job for that. Our staff is probably some of the hardest-working coaches in the league. We learned a lot and I think it's going to carry on for next year."
On Steven Stamkos: "I remember telling him at the beginning of the year, it took me 40 to 45 games out there (as a rookie) to feel better. You started seeing after 40, 50 games how good he got. He's a great scorer. He's a great skater, and with these new rules now, he's very, very dangerous. He's a smart player."
On his surgically repaired right shoulder: "It was never 100 percent. But for playing hockey and the way I'm positioned, it had nothing to do with my performance or anything like that. It's just when you're not as strong in your shoulder, some other injuries could happen. So, that's the risk of not having a strong shoulder. But like I said, this summer, we'll work the muscle and make it strong and feel good. ... in four months, everything is going to feel great, from my wrist to my shoulder. I'm excited about the summer for that "
Privately, Lecavalier will tell you how much he wants to stay in Tampa and with the Lightning. He knows the situation, though, and understands how much his salary will pinch the budget. He reiterated how the Lightning has promised that if it decides it must move him, he will be called first so he and agent Kent Hughes can be part of the process. So far, he said, "I haven't gotten the phone call."