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New GM Steve Yzerman can be guiding light for Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier

First, he has to fix the standings. For Steve Yzerman, that pretty much sums it up.

After that, it would help if Yzerman could solve the goaltending, and if he could make sure the defense leaves bruises, and if he could add a little depth to the scoring. He has to protect the future for Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and he has to erase the recent past, and he has to reclaim the playoffs.

In other words, there is a lot to do before Yzerman, the new general manager, can clean the tarnish off the Lightning. Pretty much, he has to reinvent the franchise.

After that, if it's not too much trouble, Yzerman can do this:

He can salvage Vinny Lecavalier's career.

I know, I know. At this point, it is easy to doubt Lecavalier. He is 30 now, and in each of the past three years, he has scored fewer goals than in the year before. There are those who wonder if Lecavalier will ever again be a player of major impact or if his career has regressed to the role of a backup singer.

As general managers go, however, Yzerman could be the perfect hire for Lecavalier.

More than that, he could be Lecavalier's last chance to reclaim his stardom with the Lightning.

"Steve Yzerman could be the best thing that ever happened to Vinny Lecavalier," said Jacques Demers, who has coached them both. "What Vinny really needs right now is direction from a man like Steve."

If anyone should know, it is Demers. Back when Yzerman was 21, Demers named him captain of the Red Wings. Back when Lecavalier was 19, Demers named him captain of the Lightning. Now 65 and freshly off what he says was the final hockey broadcast of his career (he has been doing commentary for the Montreal Canadiens), Demers spoke into a speaker phone Monday about what his former captains can mean for each other.

Back in 1998, when Demers had joined the Lightning, he had a conversation when Lecavalier picked his brain about Yzerman. Demers remembers that, like Yzerman, Lecavalier was calm, conservative when he talked about the game. "Vinny is my Steve Yzerman," Demers would say.

Now that they are employed by the same franchise, Yzerman can be terrific for the rebuilding of Lecavalier. True, whoever turns out to be the head coach will be the hands-on guy with Lecavalier. Still, Yzerman and Lecavalier have some common ground.

Put it this way: Can you think of a better voice to advise Lecavalier on his future?

Both of them were captains at a young age. Both of them had hard-driving coaches (Yzerman had Scotty Bowman; Lecavalier had John Tortorella) who pressed them to play on both ends of the ice. Yzerman scored 58 goals at age 27 and never matched the number; Lecavalier had 52 at age 26 and has not matched it.

Then there is this: Lecavalier didn't seem to trust the former regime. Yzerman, on the other hand, might be the most trusted man in hockey.

"He's not going to say it's black on Monday and then tell you it's white on Tuesday," Demers said. "You can trust Steve. I think you're going to see the real Vinny Lecavalier.

"Vinny has to be told he's the leader, that this is his team. He has to be reminded that he's still a superstar. He hasn't played like one. He needs a new direction.

"The times he came to Montreal, I thought Vinny looked like he was searching for something. I knew in my heart he was a better player than this."

At this stage of his career, who will disagree? But whatever you think of Lecavalier these days, and whomever you blame for it, the Lightning could use a few more reminders of Lecavalier's talent. That's true if the team keeps him, and it's true if the team eventually wants to trade him.

Phil Esposito, Demers' old boss with the Lightning, says it's too soon to give up on Lecavalier. Give him the right linemates, let him find his old spark, and he thinks Lecavalier can still be an asset.

"Let's just forget about the last two years," Esposito said. "That was lunacy. I know Vinny doesn't want to go somewhere else. I think he needs someone he can trust. There isn't any doubt that he didn't trust the other guys.

"You could tell Vinny wasn't happy last year. He wasn't having fun. You could see it on his face. You could tell by his body language. I don't think he played with the same enthusiasm. The other night, I watched the sixth game (of the Lightning's Stanley Cup final) on television. I can't tell you how many times he deked guys on his way to the net. When's the last time you saw him beat anyone? That was his game."

Esposito and Demers agree on this. At age 30, Lecavalier can still re-establish himself.

"He's only 30," Esposito said. "I had my best years at 30, 32, 33."

Added Demers: "Absolutely, I believe he can get it back."

Maybe that starts with Yzerman. Maybe Lecavalier finally has someone in the front office he can admire. Maybe he finally has someone he can trust.

In a career on the verge of being lost, maybe the first step for Lecavalier is a visit with Yzerman.

And if things don't work out?

That, too, will be up to Yzerman.

New GM Steve Yzerman can be guiding light for Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier 05/31/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 7:50am]
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