Vinny Lecavalier was diplomatic last week when he spoke of reasons for the two-year slump from which he is emerging.
And certainly "bad habits" on the ice, as he called them — such as floating on the perimeter of the action instead of grinding through it and leaving the defensive zone early — were big parts of his downturn. He also had surgeries to repair shoulder, knee, hand and wrist injuries.
But several teammates agreed the stress of two years of trade rumors under former ownership and management also took its toll, and it is no surprise Lecavalier believes he is playing his best hockey since 2007-08, before the two years OK Hockey and general manager Brian Lawton ran the team.
"You get treated with respect and how you're supposed to be treated, and you're going to go on the ice every night and compete and play for the people who run the organization and own the team," goaltender Mike Smith said. "It's fair to say the ownership we had before wasn't close to that. Bringing the people we have now helped a player like Vinny play up to his potential."
General manager Steve Yzerman, brought in by new owner Jeff Vinik in May, stated almost out of the gate he was not trading Lecavalier, short-circuiting seemingly constant rumors that culminated in speculation Lecavalier almost was traded at the 2009 draft to the Canadiens for goalie Carey Price, center Tomas Plekanec and defenseman P.K. Subban even while Lawton and then-co-owner Oren Koules denied they were trying to move him.
"It was a fresh start for him," center Steven Stamkos said. "It was a fresh start for everyone.
"You have that respect factor associated with the people involved in ownership and management and the coaching staff now. It gives you some breathing room to go out there and focus and play and not have to worry about the stuff you shouldn't have to worry about but he did because of the situation the team has been in. It's helped him get back to where he should be."
This isn't to let Lecavalier off the hook. As team captain and with an 11-year, $85 million contract, the team and fans deserve his best effort. His second-half spurt has been welcome, though even Lecavalier admitted, "I have to bring my game up even more."
Even so, Smith said, "We're happy he's back to the Vinny we all know and love."