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Lecavalier looks forward to Lightning resurgence

Thursday, 10.02.2008 / 9:30 AM / NHL Premiere

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Vincent Lecavalier is excited to start anew and leave last season's disappointing finish in the dust.

After signing an 11-year contract extension in July that will keep him in a Tampa Bay uniform through 2019-20, Lecavalier is feeling pretty good.

"I've always wanted to be in Tampa for the remainder of my career and now I'm going to do that so it's a dream come true," Lecavalier told NHL.com. "When you've been with the same organization for 10 years already, you experience your share of ups and downs. We've gone from winning the Cup to finishing last in the League, so now our goal is to return to the playoffs and go from there."

He's optimistic the team's new ownership group, new coach Barry Melrose, and several new faces on the roster will join forces to provide the impetus the team's loyal fans need to get motivated.

"It was a pretty exciting (offseason)," Lecavalier said. "From the first of July, when we saw the Lightning acquire this guy, then get this guy, and it went on for eight or nine days in a row. The new ownership (led by Oren Koules and Len Barrie) said they were going to be aggressive and they certainly were. They're very passionate about the team and they want to make it better. It's always sad to see some teammates leave, but its part of the game."

Despite the fact the Lightning finished last in the League last season, Lecavalier said they didn't perform like a last-place club in posting a 31-42-9 record.

"You never want to finish last and I don't think our team was a last-place team in a lot of ways," he said. "We were a lot better than that, but the bottom line was we still missed making the playoffs, so we just have to get back there this year."

Last season marked the first time in five seasons the Lightning missed out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs and, for a team coming off a Stanley Cup title just three seasons earlier (2003-04), it was inexcusable. It cost John Tortorella his job and forced the resignation of Jay Feaster, the team's general manager.

But the offseason overhaul has Lecavalier thinking about a major turnaround in the team's fortunes. Offensively, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Adam Hall, Vaclav Prospal, Radim Vrbata and Mark Recchi have all been signed. On defense, there's Matt Carle, Ty Wishart and Andrej Meszaros among the fresh faces. Plus, veteran goalie Olaf Kolzig is in the house to spell projected starter Mike Smith.
"There's a lot of hype in Tampa," Lecavalier said. "The owners are very passionate about the game and the selection of Steven Stamkos with the first-overall pick in the Entry Draft has provided a lot of excitement. Steven is a great player and the people of Tampa are very excited and can't wait for the hockey season to start. I've been here since 1998 and, every year, hockey has gotten bigger and bigger."

The signing of Prospal will reunite one of the more productive offensive trios in Lightning history – the MVP Line. Lecavalier centering for Martin St. Louis and Prospal was actually the second-highest scoring line (202 points) prior to Prospal's trade to Philadelphia last Feb. 23.

"The band's back together," Lecavalier said. "We actually skated together a few times over the summer and it felt pretty good. I'm lucky to have wingers like Vinny and Marty and I've said before that they are the two hardest-working wingers in the League. We've always had nice chemistry."

Lecavalier, who became the first player in franchise history to record back-to-back 40-goal seasons, led the team with 92 points in 2007-08. The 6-foot-4, 223-pound center is 27 goals shy of 300 for his career.

"I just take it year by year," Lecavalier said. "I don't really look where I'm at numbers-wise. I want to have a good year and help the team as much as I can and I know that will come. I don't really concern myself with statistics or 300 goals or anything like that."

St. Louis was second on the team with 25 goals and 83 points last season. Additionally, Lecavalier and St. Louis each tied for the team lead with 10 power-play goals. Prospal netted a career-high 33 goals and also had 38 assists in 80 games with Tampa Bay and Philadelphia in 2007-08.

If the roster restructuring wasn't enough, this season also marks the first time in franchise history the Lightning will open the season overseas. On Oct. 4-5 the Lightning will face off against the New York Rangers.

"We have a lot of new guys so it's a good chance to go to Prague and bond and get to know each other and hopefully start the season strong," Lecavalier said. "I'm excited because Prague is a great city. It's going to be a packed house over there, so that'll be great."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.

Quote of the Day

Great players need great players to play with. That's why we'll have a training camp and we'll find who the best two guys are suited to play with Stamkos.

— Tampa Bay Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness on Steven Stamkos' potential linemates for the 2014-15 season