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Scoring drought by Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier is truly shocking

TAMPA — The headlines say ownership is in another financial bind.

And, let's face it, who could honestly say they were surprised?

The standings say the Lightning may, once again, be shut out of the playoffs.

And, let's be real, who is shocked by the possibility?

The numbers say Vinny Lecavalier has become a mediocre goal-scorer.

And, good heavens, who saw that one coming?

We have been conditioned in recent years to anticipate difficult news when it comes to the Lightning. Coaching changes. Ownership squabbles. Player turnover. When a team has won 35 percent of its games for nearly three full seasons, you get used to disappointment.

But the one thing we have come to expect is Lecavalier as star. As savior. As the player who signalled the first change in a franchise's fortunes and the one who would be leading the return back to prominence.

Yet here we are, 50 games into a season, and this is a Lecavalier we barely know. The player who led the entire NHL in goals less than three years ago is now third on his own team. A player who once scored 52 goals in a season is now on pace for 21.

He has gone from being the face of a franchise to being another face in the crowd. When his name comes up in trade rumors, no one around here is screaming that Lightning ownership is out of its mind.

So how did it get to this point, Vinny?

And, furthermore, what are you going to do about it?

Everyone around the Lightning seems to be waiting for Lecavalier to break out. For that game when he skates onto the ice and, once again, looks as if he owns it. For the moment when he realizes, at age 29, he is frittering away one of the prime years of his career.

Think about the strides the team has made. It wasn't until the 60th game of last season that the Lightning got its 20th victory, and today it has 20 victories in 50 games. Now think about how good Tampa Bay might be today if Lecavalier was his usual self.

Perhaps you think this is harsh. And maybe, in a way, it is. Lecavalier, after all, has been hotter lately. He has three goals and seven assists in his last half-dozen games. But you have to understand Lecavalier brought this on himself. Not so much by playing poorly this season, but by raising our expectations the previous 10 seasons.

Remember, this is the place that swore its allegiance to this player. When it looked like the Lightning might have to trade him a couple of years ago, fans let it be known that their loyalty to Lecavalier went hand-in-hand with their loyalty to the franchise.

So the ownership group stepped up. It signed Lecavalier to an 11-year, $85 million contract that put him in the upper echelon of earners and put the Lightning in economic distress.

And there is no way you can argue that Lecavalier is living up to his end of the bargain. At $10 million, he is the highest earner in the NHL this season. And he went into Thursday night's game tied for 75th in the league with 13 goals.

Now it is true that Lecavalier has had surgery on both wrists and one shoulder in recent seasons, and maybe there is a cumulative effect to all of the cutting and probing. After more than 10 years in the league, a body can wear down.

And maybe that is something Lecavalier has to learn. That, at 29, he has to work a little harder than he did at 24. That maybe he has to be a little more receptive to the needs of his health.

Because no one is suggesting that Lecavalier is incapable of great things. The magic is still there, and we have seen flashes along the way. The problem is those flashes come one out of every four games instead of three out of four games.

And now we are reaching the time of the season when great players earn their paychecks. When the playoffs are in sight, and when the clock seems to tick faster. Lecavalier has been that kind of player in the past, and he can be again.

With three assists Thursday night, Lecavalier is on pace to set a career high in assists. He should finish somewhere above 80 points and is currently in the top 25 in the league in combined goals/assists.

So, by most normal measures, Lecavalier is actually having a fine season.

But I suppose that's the point.

For Vinny Lecavalier has never been a normal player.

And he shouldn't be today.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Scoring drought by Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier is truly shocking 01/21/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 11:54am]
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