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Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier aims to recover his spot among the NHL's elite

Vinny Lecavalier, coming off one of his worst seasons, will do new, extra training this summer and start earlier than usual.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Vinny Lecavalier, coming off one of his worst seasons, will do new, extra training this summer and start earlier than usual.

Vinny Lecavalier hit a few golf balls last week; nothing taxing, just some chips, but a good sign his right wrist is healing from April's season-ending surgery.

The real work, though, begins the third week of July, when the Lightning captain said he expects to start training for the new season, two weeks earlier than usual.

"I hope it's going to be the best summer of my career," he said. "I'm determined to be in the best shape of my life."

And after that? "I plan on having a great season."

Last season was anything but for the four-time All-Star center.

His 29 goals were his fewest since 2001-02, his 67 points his fewest since 2003-04. A shooting percentage of 10 was a career worst.

There were plenty of extenuating circumstances. Lecavalier missed training camp while rehabilitating his surgically repaired right shoulder. Trade rumors dogged him, and the wrist, painful for two seasons because of cartilage damage, got worse.

Lecavalier, 29, never whined, and general manager Brian Lawton praised his accountability during a year-end meeting he called "a tough conversation."

"He didn't say, 'Aw, the shoulder hurt, the wrist wasn't good,' none of that," Lawton said. "He didn't try to sidestep any of his responsibility. I give him credit for that. … That's why I'm so bullish on him that he's going to have a good season next year."

That Lecavalier can train vigorously and consistently should help. He said rehabbing the shoulder last summer robbed him of critical workout time. As a result, "I didn't feel the explosion, the quick starts, and my feet seemed slow. I didn't feel that great during games that much. That was the thing I was most upset with."

Thus, the extra training with help from Kenan Gouadec, one of Canada's foremost short-track speed-skating coaches, and Eric Bedard, a Canadian Olympic gold medalist in short-track skating.

Hiring them has two purposes, Lecavalier said. The training program, though customized, will be similar to one used by the Canadian national speed-skating team — perfect to add quickness and strength to his stride — and a new program and new blood adds excitement.

The workouts sound grueling. Lecavalier said he will skate two-a-days three days a week and eight sessions total during a five-day training week.

"I'm really anxious to start," he said. "Once I have a great summer and I'm in great shape, the confidence comes with that. Training like this, I think it's going to pay off."

Doug MacLean believes it, too.

The former Blue Jackets coach, a Toronto radio analyst, said he expects Lecavalier to reach 40 goals and 90 points, especially if Tampa Bay adds a puck-moving defenseman to help last season's nonexistent transition game.

Even if the Lightning decides to trade Lecavalier during the summer as it considers how best to rebuild a team that last season finished 29th in the 30-team league, MacLean said, "I'll be shocked if he's not a superstar next year."

"He's eager to get back," said Jacques Demers, Lecavalier's first Lightning coach and a family friend. "He didn't like the season he had last year. He's not going to stand for it."

Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier aims to recover his spot among the NHL's elite 05/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2009 6:37am]
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