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Vinny Lecavalier still loves Lightning, Tampa Bay

TAMPA — Vinny Lecavalier hasn't played for the Lightning for two years, but he says it's still a special feeling getting back on the Amalie Arena ice.

"It reminds you of so many things," he said Thursday.

Lecavalier, 35, a former Lightning captain, played 14 seasons in Tampa Bay and helped bring it a Stanley Cup in 2004. That's why it was especially tough for Lecavalier to be a healthy scratch for the Flyers in their season opener against the Lightning. Lecavalier found out he would be scratched 10 days before.

"I still have that confidence that if I'm put in a situation, I know I can still play the game," the forward said. "I believe in myself, and that's all that matters, honestly. It is hard. I want to play."

Lecavalier, the Lightning's No. 1 overall draft pick in 1998, never wanted to leave. But with his 11-year, $85 million contract a strain on the team, he was bought out in June 2013 and signed with the Flyers. Though his Tampa house was for sale, he plans to live here when he retires with his wife, Caroline, and three kids.

He was in Tampa during the summer, watching several of the Lightning's playoff games at friends' houses or sports bars such as Hattricks and Ducky's.

"It's really a tough place to beat," Lecavalier said of Tampa Bay. "The organization is great. Tampa is really good. When we won that Cup in 2004, the town was really behind us and supporting. But it got bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger every year, and now (owner Jeff) Vinik, he's really just took it to another level. Tampa is really a hockey town, honestly."

Lecavalier is aware that current Lightning captain Steven Stamkos' contract situation is an ongoing story. "It's a process," he said. "I'm sure they'll find a way to make (an extension) happen."

Some suggest that if Stamkos, in the final year of his contract, doesn't get a deal done, he'd want to play for his hometown Maple Leafs. But others assumed that if Lecavalier left the Lightning, he would return home to Montreal, which made his perspective on Stamkos interesting.

"It's tough to leave a place like this, this organization," he said. "If you start (in the NHL) here like 'Stammer' and I did, you always have in the back of your mind, 'I'm from Montreal, it'd be cool to play there.' And it would be, I'm sure, for Stammer to go play in Toronto. But it's his team here.

"It's something you've got to think about. … When you are somewhere for so long and you guys build something — I don't want to talk for Stammer — it's tough to say I want to go to another team. You want to be here when the success happens, when you win. So I'm sure he feels that way. He just wants to win the Cup, and they have a pretty solid team here."

Lecavalier is touched when fans recognize him. Though he was asked by a few people if he wanted tickets to the playoff games last season, he would have felt a "little uncomfortable" sitting in the stands because he plays for another team.

"For sure, when I'm done, I'll bring my kid, he's going to have the hat and the jersey and everything Lightning," Lecavalier said. "It'll be fun."

REMEMBER ME? Lightning and ex-Flyers D Braydon Coburn popped by the Philadelphia bench before the morning skate, drawing Flyers RW Jakub Voracek to joke, "You pumped? You're not going to crush me, are you?" Said Coburn: "I'll try." Coburn, acquired at the trade deadline last season, said it was perfect that the opener was against the Flyers. D Radko Gudas, part of the Coburn deal, was a healthy scratch for the Flyers.

LINING UP: D Slater Koekkoek was reassigned to AHL Syracuse. He was on the original roster for salary cap purposes. … C Cedric Paquette and D Nikita Nesterov were scratched. … The Lightning switched its defensive pairings, putting Andrej Sustr with Coburn and Matt Carle with Jason Garrison.

Vinny Lecavalier still loves Lightning, Tampa Bay 10/08/15 [Last modified: Thursday, October 8, 2015 10:21pm]
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