When Vinny Lecavalier recalls the two seasons he spent with the Lightning playing almost exclusively on a line with Marty St. Louis, he can't help but smile.
"For the regular season, for me, it was probably the most fun I've had," Lecavalier said of the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. "Every night was fun."
"It was unbelievable," St. Louis said. "We were both in a zone."
Lecavalier, at center, had 92 goals and 200 points. St. Louis, a rocket on right wing, had 68 goals, 185 points.
"An absolute joy to watch," Lightning founder Phil Esposito said.
It is worth remembering now that Lecavalier's 14-season run with the Lightning has ended with a buyout.
For all the recent talk about the symbiotic connection between St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, it was Lecavalier and St. Louis who were the original dynamic duo.
From 2006-08 they were a machine. Passes were made without looking. Simple breakout rushes, done at high speed, caused the Tampa Bay Times Forum to hum.
In the magical 2006-07 season, Lecavalier won the Rocket Richard Trophy with a career-best 52 goals. He also had a career-best 108 points. St. Louis had career bests of 43 goals and 102 points.
Vinny Prospal, on the left side, was pulled along for the ride. In 2007-08 he had 57 points and a career-best 29 goals in only 62 games.
"We really complemented each other," Lecavalier said of him and St. Louis. "We pushed each other. Every game, our confidence was so high and we knew where we were on the ice. We were playing with full confidence."
Said Esposito: "They just had that chemistry."
But they also have a friendship, built over 13 years, that both say will endure. As years passed, their conversations moved from simple on-ice concerns to family, kids, life in general.
That is why on Thursday, when St. Louis heard Lecavalier's time with the Lightning was over, he made sure to call and offer support.
"It meant a lot," Lecavalier, 33, said. "One of the best players in the world and a great leader. A great guy and a great friend."
"You know, when I came (to the Lightning in 2000), it was his third year in the league," St. Louis, 38, said. "You could see his talent, and he found a way to put it together in so many aspects. For a big guy, having that set of hands, the shot, he was the total package."
The Lecavalier-St. Louis pairing ended midway through the 2008-09 season when then-coach Rick Tocchet moved St. Louis to a line with Stamkos, a rookie center whose career promptly took off.
Then-coach Guy Boucher reunited Lecavalier and St. Louis last season, and when flashes of brilliance emerged, comparisons to the past were inevitable.
"I have so many mixed emotions," said St. Louis, who with Lecavalier's departure is the last remaining member of the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup team. "We've gone through a lot together. I'm going to miss him."