About two months after Vinny Lecavalier was bought out of his Lightning contract and signed a five-year deal with the Flyers, he drove over the Davis Islands bridge to end one chapter of his life and begin another.
Lecavalier would be moving his family to Haddonfield, N.J., a Philadelphia suburb. He needed clothes and other belongings from the Tampa home in which he and wife Caroline had lived for eight years and raised their three kids, not to mention their labradoodle EnZo.
But as Lecavalier crossed the bridge after flying to Tampa from his native Montreal, emotions spilled out.
"That's when it hit me: 'I'm not coming back to play for the Lightning,' " he said. "It was tough. I was down that day, for sure."
Three months later, Lecavalier, 33, has settled in with the Flyers. His eight goals are tied for the team lead, his 13 points in 19 games are third and he has bonded with a city he calls "a great sports market" and teammates who are "a great bunch of guys."
As for facing the Lightning for the first time tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, he said he can't wait: "One of the first things I looked at when we got the schedule this year was when do we come to Tampa?"
That said, "It's definitely going to be very weird. To actually play against the Lightning, I don't know how I'm going to feel."
He even asked former Lightning teammate Brad Richards what it was like during his first game in Tampa after being dealt to the Stars in February 2008.
Exciting and nerve-wracking, Lecavalier said he was told.
Lecavalier, whose charitable work helped endear him to the community, will be given one of the Lightning's Community Hero awards at the game and a scoreboard tribute.
Asked it he had anything to prove to Tampa Bay, he said no.
"It's not about proving anybody wrong," Lecavalier said. "I want to prove (the Flyers) right. (The Lightning) made a business decision. I don't have anything against them. They do everything the right way. The thing for me was to move on. That's all."
In 14 seasons and 1,037 games with the Lightning, Lecavalier, the No. 1 pick of the 1998 draft, had 383 goals (a team record), 491 assists and 874 points.
The four-time All-Star was captain from 1999-2001 and 2008-13. He was the first Tampa Bay player to score 50 goals (52 in 2006-07, when he won the Rocket Richard Trophy) and played on the 2004 Stanley Cup team.
"The memories I'll have for the rest of my life," he said. "It gives you a taste. You win one and now you want to win another one."
His average 16:36 of ice time with the Flyers is well below the 17:52 he averaged last season with the Lightning, he wears No. 40 instead of the No. 4 he wore with Tampa Bay, and he wears a face guard three weeks after sustaining injuries in a fight.
But the center is a core part of the power play and, as he did with Tampa Bay, mans the right-wing wall.
"Better than advertised," linemate Wayne Simmonds said. "I'm kind of in awe of him out there sometimes when he has the puck. He's got a great shot and has great vision and he's unbelievably strong. That's a rare find in a guy with skill like that. I'm just honored to get a chance to play with him. It's unbelievable."
"Vinny's the type of player, he just doesn't rely on talent," said Flyers forward Adam Hall, who played four seasons with Lecavalier with the Lightning. "He goes out and works, and that's going to translate into success no matter what system he's playing in."
Because Lecavalier had seven years left on an 11-year, $85 million deal and because the new collective bargaining agreement could severely tax the Lightning if he retired early, a buyout almost was inevitable.
General manager Steve Yzerman told Lecavalier about two weeks before the June 27 buyout it was coming.
"He was such an important player for this franchise and the community, and he's a classy guy," Yzerman said. "We just wanted to do the right things in a difficult circumstance."
Lecavalier appreciated being kept in the loop — and the $30 million he is owed by the Lightning and $22.5 million he is getting from the Flyers certainly made for a soft landing — but it didn't make that August day in Tampa any easier.
"Definitely very sad for all of us," Lecavalier's father, Yvon, said. "You really thought he would stay (in Tampa) forever."
Yvon kept reminding his son the buyout was "a question of business, nothing else."
"We have to understand what it is," Yvon said he told Lecavalier. "If they can trade Wayne Gretzky, they can trade Vinny Lecavalier. That's what I told him. We had to move on. No choice, that's the way life is."
Lecavalier still owns the house; his parents live there now. His sister lives in the area, and Lecavalier said he could see himself retiring to Tampa when his career is done.
"I'm from Montreal and I love going back there," Lecavalier said, "but Tampa has always been my home."
Even playing for the Flyers.
Minor move: Defenseman Dmitry Korobov was reassigned to AHL Syracuse, indicating either Keith Aulie and/or Radko Gudas, both with upper-body injuries, are healthy.