TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has sent a message to Vinny Lecavalier.
"We're going to challenge him to be better," Yzerman said.
But Yzerman also apparently assured the captain, who is coming off two disappointing seasons, he still is part of the plan.
"I'm not going to go out and start shopping Vinny Lecavalier around," Yzerman said recently at the St. Pete Times Forum.
That was welcome news to Lecavalier, who said he came out of a recent meeting with Yzerman believing he can finally relax after two years of trade rumors.
It should be noted Lecavalier's contract includes a no-move clause, which means he must approve any trade.
Even so, Lecavalier said, "After I left the meeting, I was very happy. It's been tough the past two years wondering what's going to happen and if the rumors were true or not. Those things were distractions, and now it's over. I've always said I wanted to be in Tampa, and they definitely reassured that to me."
Now it is up to Lecavalier, 30, to show he again can be an elite player after three consecutive seasons of declining goals after his league-best 52 in 2006-07. The center's 24 goals last season were his fewest since 2001-02.
It's not just about production for Yzerman, but long-term planning.
Lecavalier has 10 years and $75 million left on a contract that pays $10 million next season.
With the team committed to an additional $70.3 million in long-term deals and buyouts, center Steven Stamkos expected to sign a rich contract extension to start in 2011-12 and defenseman Victor Hedman to get a substantial salary boost in 2012-13, the organization might have tough roster decisions to make.
Yzerman was clear that equation and the responsibility for carrying the team "isn't all about Vinny."
"We have a core group of guys under contract who are part of that group," he added. "Every player is going to have a certain expectation. And if players aren't living up to that, then we've got to say, 'Okay, what do we do at that point?' "
A clear head for Lecavalier is important, and it helped that the organization went through a housecleaning at the top.
Lecavalier has great respect for Yzerman, one of his childhood idols, and he praised new owner Jeff Vinik for "the direction he is bringing the organization."
Neither Lecavalier nor his agent, Kent Hughes, referred to former general manager Brian Lawton and former co-owner Oren Koules, both of whom, despite their denials, were continually rumored to want to trade Lecavalier.
But Hughes did say: "I don't care what you have accomplished in the game. Everybody feels that much better when the people around him trust him to be the player he can be."
Yzerman said he has no doubt Lecavalier, who had shoulder and wrist surgeries the past two offseasons, respectively, and played last season with a revolving door of mostly ineffectual linemates, can regain his form.
"Absolutely," he said while putting the onus on the player.
"He's going to determine what kind of career he's going to have over the next 10 years by how hard he trains and how serious his commitment is to winning."
Lecavalier said he is rejuvenated: "Yes, from the team standpoint of coming back to a winning season and making the playoffs and, for myself, bringing back the level of my game where I know I can be.
"I'm not 40 years old. I'm in great shape. I'm working out hard. I believe I can bring a lot to the organization. … They want to do things the right way here. I want to be part of it."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]