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Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier insists he'll be ready for training camp after knee surgery

Vinny Lecavalier says his left knee began bothering him during a February game in Atlanta when he fell awkwardly after a hit.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Vinny Lecavalier says his left knee began bothering him during a February game in Atlanta when he fell awkwardly after a hit.

Vinny Lecavalier understands why someone would believe he is exasperated, and maybe even a bit worried.

On the verge of what many, including the Lightning captain, believe will be a resurgent season, the center, for the third straight summer, is rehabilitating from surgery.

But unlike the past two summers, when shoulder and wrist surgeries roadblocked his conditioning, the Aug. 24 arthroscopic procedure on his left knee apparently is no more than a speed bump.

Lecavalier said he might skate today in his native Montreal and was adamant he will be ready for training camp, which opens Sept. 17 at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.

"It's not big enough of a surgery to say I'm shaking my head, 'Another rehab,' or something like that," he said of the operation that cleaned out two pieces of floating cartilage.

"(Wednesday) I had a good leg workout. It wasn't heavy, obviously, but I'm slowly starting to get there. Once I start skating (today), I'm going hard to get back where I should be."

That means production closer to the 40 goals and 92 points Lecavalier had in 2007-08 instead of the 24 goals (his fewest since 2001-02) and 70 points he had last season, his third straight season of declining production and the Lightning's third straight out of the playoffs.

A healthy summer of unfettered conditioning, his first since 2007, was supposed to be one of the keys. The acquisition of left wing Simon Gagne to play on Lecavalier's line isn't bad, either. So when Lecavalier, 30, felt a persistent twinge in his knee during on-ice workouts in Montreal, red flags went up.

It could have been worse. The original diagnosis from an MRI exam in Montreal was a torn meniscus. But the surgery, performed in Tampa by Lightning medical director Ira Guttentag, showed the meniscus intact, the team said.

"So it was basically a cleanup," Lecavalier said.

"Very minor," general manager Steve Yzerman said. "Now it's just a matter of the small portals from the 'scopes healing and any little swelling going away, and he'll be fine. It's not an injury I see hampering him at training camp at all."

Truth be told, Lecavalier said, the knee began bothering him during a February game in Atlanta when he fell awkwardly after being hit.

He said he played through the discomfort that went away during the downtime of the summer. But the knee flared during on-ice workouts in August.

"Obviously, we wanted to get it done before the season so I could focus on getting back," Lecavalier said of the surgery. "It's something we wanted to do because (the injury) could have affected me through the year."

Instead, Lecavalier said, he can concentrate on reviving his career, and the franchise as well.

"It's definitely an exciting year," Lecavalier said. "I'm really excited. It should be a fun year. Winning brings a smile to the dressing room. The first step is having a good training camp."

With a healthy knee.

Kovalchuk deal: The league extended its deadline from Wednesday to Friday for its decision on wing Ilya Kovalchuk's new contract with the Devils, for 15 years and $100 million. In July the league rejected a front-loaded, 17-year deal valued at $102 million because, it said, the deal's structure would have circumvented the salary cap. An independent arbitrator upheld that decision last month. The Devils and Kovalchuk, an unrestricted free agent, submitted the latest contract to the league Friday.

Sharks: Goalie Antti Niemi, who backstopped the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in June, is set to sign a one-year contract, according to multiple media reports. The contract will pay Niemi $2 million for this season. As a restricted free agent, Niemi was awarded a one-year contract worth $2.75 million through arbitration last month, but the Blackhawks, who have dumped several players in the offseason because of cap problems, chose to let him become an unrestricted free agent. The Sharks had planned to enter the season with former Lightning goalie Antero Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss as their tandem, but Niemi's presence would push Greiss to third on the depth chart and create competition with Niittymaki for the No. 1 job.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier insists he'll be ready for training camp after knee surgery 09/01/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 2, 2010 8:09am]
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