BRANDON — For Vinny Lecavalier, the best part of his offseason workout program was it began a few weeks early.
He didn't do anything major, he said, just some extra skating. But given how his past few summers have been more about rehabilitating repaired body parts than preparing for a season, the quick start felt good.
"It was such a relief," the Lightning captain said, "not having to think about healing something."
There has been a lot of healing.
Tampa Bay's training camp opens today at the Ice Sports Forum, and for the first time in five years, Lecavalier comes in healthy.
"In five years?" exclaimed coach Guy Boucher.
In five years.
The center had arthroscopic surgery on his left wrist after the 2006-07 season to clean up cartilage. He had right shoulder surgery after 2007-08 for a torn labrum.
Cartilage in his right wrist was repaired just as the 2008-09 season was ending, and his right knee had arthroscopic surgery in August 2010.
"It just drains you," Lecavalier said. "Summer is a time to recharge your batteries. When you have surgery, they don't recharge."
Lecavalier, 31, never used injuries as an excuse for his statistics, which dwindled from 52 goals, 108 points in 2006-07 to 25 goals, 54 points last season.
Still, teammate Ryan Malone said, "for him to have short summers does have an effect."
"It just throws you off course," said center Dominic Moore, who added that a healthy summer "is a big head start."
The biggest head start might be how Lecavalier played the second half of last season: 18 goals, 37 points in his last 39 games, when, as Moore said, "he tapped into that love of the game. You could see his energy."
Lecavalier credits working with Chuck Lobe, then the team's strength coach, to get in better shape while missing 15 games from Nov. 12 to Dec. 11 with a hand injury. But it took until Jan. 9, another 13 games, before Lecavalier's scoring outburst began, so perhaps other factors also were at work.
"He just really started paying attention to the little details, getting the pucks in and making the right plays at the right time," Malone said. "He paid attention, and he got rewarded."
The question is, can Lecavalier, 6 feet 4, 208 pounds, regain more of the form that made him one of the best players in the world from 2006 to 2008?
And can he do it for an entire season?
"I want to produce," Lecavalier said. "I know if I played the way I played since January, things will come and the goals will come."
But, Boucher said, "the expectations are not in terms of a number of points. The expectation is he's going to be more in shape, more ready to start."
"We always downplay the effect of injuries, but they are devastating. The enthusiasm that comes from the fact that there's no injury and being able to train in the summer the way he wanted to train will be invigorating for him."
For a team counting on its captain, that may be the best part of all.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.