Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

In final season, Vinny Lecavalier looks to recreate glory from Lightning days

Vinny Lecavalier has still got it.

You could see that Tuesday night at TD Garden in Boston, where Lecavalier, 35, made a wicked spin-o-rama move behind the net before sending a no-look feed to new Kings teammate Marian Gaborik, who finished from the right circle. The highlight-reel play was reminiscent of many that Lecavalier, a former Lightning captain, dazzled with a decade ago with buddies Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards.

"Exactly," Lecavalier said, laughing.

Lecavalier is hoping he can turn back the clock one last time before his career comes to a close in a few months. An early January trade to the Pacific Division-leading Kings freed him from a two-year purgatory in Philadelphia and gave Lecavalier a final shot at hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2004 with Tampa Bay. Back then, Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis were just kids.

Now they all have kids of their own, and Lecavalier, with three, remembered being envious in June watching Richards with the Blackhawks celebrate his second Cup with son Luca.

"I saw how lucky he was to win with his son there, taking pictures with him after," Lecavalier said Wednesday in a phone interview from his New York hotel. "It was such a great thing to have to win with your family, and I didn't have kids in 2004, and now I have a family. I think it'd be something incredible to do it this year."

•••

Lecavalier doubted whether he'd get another chance.

Heck, he didn't know when he'd play again.

Lecavalier figured it'd be a tough year when he was told 10 days before the season opener — which was in Tampa, no less — that he'd be a healthy scratch. He played in just seven games with the Flyers this season, none since Nov. 12.

Still, Lecavalier — a four-time All-Star with 419 goals — didn't pout or hold out.

"I didn't really want to be that guy," Lecavalier said. "I still wanted to be a good teammate, and you don't want to be a cancer on the team. Nobody wanted to see that. There were days that were tough and I probably didn't have a big smile coming in. But I tried to keep a good attitude.

"I knew I probably wouldn't play in Philly. But if I worked hard, that if something does happen, if I do get traded, I'll be in the best shape I can be in."

Not much had gone right since Lecavalier agreed to a five-year, $22.5 million deal with the Flyers in the summer of 2013, shortly after the Lightning bought out the final seven years of his contract for $32.667 million, then an NHL buyout record. Lecavalier had spent his first 14 seasons with Tampa Bay, which drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998.

Lecavalier went to Philadelphia to play for coach Peter Laviolette, who was abruptly fired three games into Lecavalier's first season. Lecavalier didn't fit with the next two coaches while also dealing with injuries, playing in just 64 games. But with Lecavalier's salary, two years remaining on his deal, he was tough to trade, as much as he wanted out.

"Sometimes I'm like, 'Well, I don't know if I'll get traded,' some other times I heard rumors about things, so my hopes were up again," Lecavalier said. "It was kind of a long process."

Lecavalier heard Los Angeles was first interested in the summer, with trade talks heating up after Jan. 1. And while at the Philadelphia airport Jan. 6, the Flyers' charter to Minnesota was held while Lecavalier had a conference call with the Kings brass. If a deal was done, Lecavalier wouldn't get on the plane.

Lecavalier was never so happy to miss a flight. He and defenseman Luke Schenn were dealt to Los Angeles for Jordan Weal and a third-round draft pick.

"Obviously I wanted a change," Lecavalier said. "I wanted to be on a winning team. It's a great team with a great coach. My family is happy there. I couldn't have picked a better place to go."

•••

As part of the deal, Lecavalier said he'd retire at the end of this season, forgoing the final two years on his contract.

"It wasn't hard at all to decide," Lecavalier said. "Not at all. It's something I've been thinking about, even before that, it's not something that was because of the trade. But when it was obviously part of it, I didn't hesitate. I would have been in Philly and not played the rest of the year. For me to get an opportunity like this, it was a no-brainer."

While Lecavalier has eight points (five goals, three assists) in his first 13 games with Los Angeles, he says he's not motivated by proving he can still play. His goal, he says, is winning, and he has been willing to play any role on a team that has won two Cups in the past four years even if it has been the bottom-six, though he has been getting power play time. Lecavalier credits his hard work while being scratched in Philadelphia for making his transition back into the lineup more seamless after such a long layoff. He said he's feeling better and more comfortable every day.

"He's playing very well and he's going to have a chance to go out playing into June," Richards said. "That team is as good as anybody in the league. It's something we talked about last year, watching that with me how he'd like one more shot at it. I'm happy he's got that."

Lecavalier watched last year's Stanley Cup final in Tampa sports bars like Ducky's and Hattricks. He wouldn't mind if he's back in Tampa for the final this June, facing the Lightning in a potential storybook ending.

"That'd be great," Lecavalier said. "I've already gotten a few texts from people, not players, but trainers in Tampa. It would be a lot of fun for sure. You never know."

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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