Lecavalier says it's tough to be scratched in Tampa return
Vinny Lecavalier hasn't played for the Lightning for two years now, but he says it's still a special feeling getting back on the Amalie Arena ice.
"It reminds you of so many things," he said. "Pretty cool."
Lecavalier. 35, was former Lightning captain, the face of the franchise, winning a Cup here in 2004. That's why it makes it especially tough for Lecavalier to be a healthy scratch for the Flyers again as they open the season tonight against the Lightning. Lecavalier, scratched last season (17 games) for the first time in his career, found out 10 days ago he wouldn't be playing.
"The toughest thing is not physically being out there and playing with the puck, it's mentallly," Lecavalier said. "It can't creep up on you, I still have that confidence that if I'm put in a situation, I know I can still play the game. I believe in myself, and that's all that matters honestly. It is hard. I want to play."
Lecavalier, the longest-tenured player in Lightning history at 14 years, never wanted to leave Tampa, having been drafted No. 1 overall in 1998. But with his 11-year, $85 million contract a strain on Tampa Bay, he was bought out in June 2013. Lecavalier's house is up for sale, but he plans to live here with his wife Caroline and three kids when he retires. He was back in Tampa this past summer, watching several of the Lightning's playoff games from friends' houses or sports bars like Hattricks or Ducky's. Lecavalier, surrounded by hundreds of people in Lightning jersey, has been impressed by the franchise's transformation.
"It's really a tough place to beat," Lecavalier said. "The organization is great, Tampa is really good. When we won that Cup in 2004, the town was really behind us and supporting. But it got bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger every year, and now Mr. Vinik he's really just took it to another level.
"Tampa is really a hockey town, honestly."
Lecavalier realizes another Lightning captain is in the news, with Steven Stamkos' contract situation becoming an ongoing story. Lecavalier noted its a "process," sometimes taking longer than people hope.
"I'm sure they want Stammer here for a long time, and vice versa," Lecavalier said. "I mean, who wouldn't want to play here? I'm sure they'll find a way to make it happen."
The popular perception is that, if Stamkos doesn't get a deal done in Tampa, he'd want to play for his hometown Tororonto Maple Leafs, where he could be king, definitely one of the league's highest paid players. But some thought the same thing about Lecavalier returning home to Montreal, which made his perspective interesting.
"It's tough to leave a place like this, this organization," Lecavalier said. "If you start here like Stammer and I did, you always have in the back of your mind, 'I'm from Montreal, it'd be cool to play there.' And it would I'm sure for Stammer to go play in Toronto. But it's his team here.
"It's something you've got to think about... When you are somewhere for so long, and you guys build something, it's tough to just kind of, for me - I don't want to talk for Stammer - it's tough to say I want to go to another team. I remember here, with Marty and Stammer and all those guys, when we won the Cup, you start building. You want to be here when the success happens, when you win. So I'm sure he feels that way. He just wants to win the Cup and they have a pretty solid team here."
Lecavalier is touched when fans recognize him, remembering the '04 Cup team and what they did. He laughs as the next thing people ask about is the current Lightning team. While Lecavalier was asked by a few people if he wanted tickets to the playoff games last summer, he felt a "little uncomfortable," as he's a current player on another team.
"I did watch the games," Lecavalier said. "I watched Stammer and Heddy and Bish, and the guys I played with. For sure, when I'm done, I'll bring my kid, he's going to have the hat and the jersey and everything Lightning. It'll be fun."