TAMPA — The Vinny Lecavalier jersey retirement ceremony Saturday was as classy and cool as the former Lightning captain himself. But it also revealed a sneaky sense of humor from Lecavalier.
Before his No. 4 was raised to the Amalie Arena rafters alongside former linemate Marty St. Louis’ No. 26, Lecavalier poked a little fun at his good friend. Lecavalier, at 6 feet 4, noted that his jersey was always bigger than that of the 5-foot-9 St. Louis.
"But I got confirmation that the banner in the rafters only came in one size," Lecavalier quipped in his speech.
Then, seriously, "It is truly an honor for my name and your name to be next to each other forever."
St. Louis was among a dozen former Lightning teammates, also including Brad Richards, in attendance for the hour-long fete, which included the Stanley Cup and speeches by founder Phil Esposito, former GM Jay Feaster, owner Jeff Vinik and Richards.
Lecavalier, 37, was lauded more for what he has done off the ice to fight pediatric cancer.
"The name Vinny has become synonymous with giving back," Vinik said.
Lecavalier said his life changed forever when he shook hands with Esposito after getting drafted No. 1 overall in 1998. Esposito laughed as he recounted his quick scouting trip to Rimouski, Quebec, where Lecavalier and Richards were junior teammates. Some Lightning scouts were considering drafting another player No. 1.
"I said, ‘Why are we wasting our time?’ " Esposito said. " ‘Not only do I want Lecavalier, I want to get that other guy that plays with him, Brad Richards.’ "
Lecavalier and Richards helped lead the Lightning to its only Stanley Cup in 2004. But Lecavalier’s 15-year Lightning journey wasn’t all warm and fuzzy. Feaster acknowledged rumors about trading Lecavalier in 2001 because of Lecavalier’s rift with then-coach John Tortorella. Lecavalier and Tortorella repaired their relationship. In a tribute video Saturday, Tortorella — whose current team, the Blue Jackets, had a game that night — said to Lecavalier, "I admire you."
Vinik said one of the toughest decisions in franchise history was buying out Lecavalier in the summer of 2013.
"The way Vinny handled tough circumstances with class, with professionalism," Vinik said, "what a great example for his children and children everywhere."
Lecavalier’s children — Victoria, 7; Gabriel, 6, and Amelia, 4 — were there with his wife, Caroline, "the captain of my team," Lecavalier said.
Lecavalier, who is raising his family in Tampa, told the sellout crowd of 19,092, "I’m now one of you, a Lightning fan forever."