Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lecavalier bolts forward with Flyers

Vincent Lecavalier was heralded as nothing less than the next Gretzky and Michael Jordan by then-owner Art Williams, when he was taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning with the first overall pick of the 1998 draft.

Fifteen years, 14 seasons, one Stanley Cup, a still-standing team record for goals and games played later, and the Montreal native was nonetheless the subject of the largest single buyout under the new rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement this Summer.

He had seven years left on an 11-year, $85 million contract signed in 2009 when Lightning GM Steve Yzerman decided to sever that tie, and he's pocketing both the the $30 million he is owed by the Lightning and $22.5 million on his new deal from the Flyers. Tonight, it all comes home for the 33-year-old, when he returns to the city which made him the person and player he is now, only suited in Orange and Black.

"It's not about proving anybody wrong," Lecavalier said to Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times. "I want to prove (the Flyers) right. The Lightning made a business decision. I don't have anything against them. They do everything the right way. The thing for me was to move on. That's all."

So far, the move has paid dividends, with Lecavalier tied for the team lead in goals with eight and third on the club with 13 points in a season which can charitably be described on the whole as rocky so far. That doesn't account for the emotions which haven't bubbled to the surface until today. 

In 52 regular-season games against the Flyers, Lecavalier racked up 42 points (15G, 27A). He scored a goal in four of the last six games for Tampa against Philadelphia and totaled eight multi-point contests against his new club.

But now, the odometer has been rewound all the way back to zeros. Number 4 has become No. 40 and a new scoring line is waiting to be logged.

“It’s going to be weird,” former teammate Martin St. Louis said to a media assemblage after Wednesday's practice. “What he’s done here on and off the ice and what he’s meant to this franchise for a long time.”

Lecavalier made his debut against the Flyers at 18 years, 178 days old, in a 5-2 home loss on October 16, 1998 -- only four games into his rookie season for a team that finished 19-54-9. He made his debut with the Flyers at 33 years, 164 days on Oct. 2 and also carried with him an air of revitalization and renewal when signed here in July, though nowhere near on the order of franchise savior or best player in hockey.

He knows his former fans will help ease the transition once the skate hit that old familiar sheet of ice: "I think the fans have been supporting me my whole career over there. I don't think it'll change because I have a different jersey. They've always been good to me and the other players."

Nothing did change. When play was stopped during the first period for a lengthy video tribute to the former Lightning captain and franchise icon, the crowd stood and expressed their thanks -- along with the players on both benches.

It didn't manage to raise Lecavalier's spirits much, given the end result was a 4-2 defeat, but he did acknowledge their effort.

"It was very weird stepping out on the ice. I had a great experience just skating here. The fans were supportive. It definitely means a lot."
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