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Lecavalier leading the way through tough times

Tuesday, 03.31.2009 / 12:00 AM / Captains, Driven by Bridgestone

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Beneath the jersey, would it surprise anyone if Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier was equipped with a bullet-proof vest?

After all, he's certainly taken his share of shots on and off the ice this season. Through it all, though, he's remained confident and steadfast in his approach to the game and his personal life.

He never complained when his offseason workout regimen gave way to shoulder surgery and subsequent rehab prior to the 2008-09 season. He answered questions regarding the trade rumors that surrounded him for what seemed to be an eternity during All-Star Weekend in Montreal at a time when he should have been celebrating the sport with family and friends in his hometown.

And despite the fact his offensive production has dipped for the third-straight season and his team failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second season in a row, Lecavalier still prefers to look on the brighter side.

"It definitely was a challenging year," Lecavalier told NHL.com. "It's obviously not the type of season we wanted. It was tough not getting the training in that I normally would in the offseason, but I'm not making any excuses. The shoulder feels pretty good now, but my production hasn't been there this year."

Lecavalier, 28, currently is tied with Martin St. Louis for the team lead with 29 goals and is first with 10 power-play goals and 6 game-winners. While he might miss out on a fourth-straight 35-goal season, he's still second on the team with 67 points.

"With the season we've had it's been pretty tough; losing is never fun," he said. "It's not where we expected to be and my standards are a lot higher than that. I guess we're all learning how to deal with adversity and I'm hoping next year we'll come out strong and get better."

Tampa Bay is ranked 28th in the League with 65 points, one season after finishing last in the League with 71 points.

On a team that through Monday has used 48 different players -- seven short of an NHL record set by the Bruins in 1991-92 -- and changed coaches after just 16 games, Lecavalier has been forced to take more of a hands-on approach this season.

"We have a lot of young guys, especially now with all the injuries," Lecavalier said. "There are a lot of young defensemen and young forwards throughout the lineup and so the veterans on this team, including myself, had to take a different approach in the dressing room to help out the young guys as much as possible."

There's no question Lecavalier has become more of a role model for many of the younger players on the team. It's quite a change since the 2000-01 season -- his third in the League -- when at 19, he was became at the time the youngest captain in NHL history at 19 years and 11 months. It was a title he held for one season before being replaced prior to the start of the 2001-02 season.

"I had a tough (third) season with a new coaching staff, new system and things didn't go as well and maybe I lost my confidence," he said. "Living up to expectations is all about confidence; sometimes in a good way or a bad way. If you get on a roll, your confidence is high and seems like nothing can stop you, but then there are other times, like that year, when things just aren't going your way. I think everyone has experienced that at one time or another."

Whatever the reason for Lecavalier being relieved of his captaincy -- his age, his relationship with then-coach John Tortorella or ongoing contract negotiations -- he never wavered in his desire to become the best he could be.

"In your first or second year, you probably aren't as polished a player as, say, your ninth or 10th season," Lecavalier said. "The more experience you get and the more you keep doing what you're doing, the easier it becomes. But really, you don't need a 'C' or an 'A' on the jersey to be considered a leader in the dressing room."

When the new regime took control in Tampa Bay over the summer, it was apparent Lecavalier was going to be the focal point of the franchise. On July 13, 2008, he was given an 11-year contract extension, which kicks in July 1 and runs through the 2019-20 season. Two months after signing the deal, he again was appointed team captain.

"Not only is Vincent one of the most dynamic players in the NHL, he's one of the classiest people you'll ever meet off the ice," said Lightning Executive Vice-President and General Manager Brian Lawton.

That persona certainly didn't shield him from the media hoard he would face each time he crossed the border into Montreal this season, as rumors persisted that Lecavalier would be traded to the Canadiens. Although his new contract has a no-trade clause, it doesn't kick in until the new deal starts. Still, Lecavalier continued about his business because, as he states, "anything outside of hockey was out of my control."

"The rumors kind of get old because you're asked a lot of the same questions but I can't really control rumors," Lecavalier said. "I guess it could be a little bit of a distraction, but I think it's when I go to Canada when they start asking me a lot of those questions. But it's usually just in the morning and then, after that, I put my game face on and get focused, so it's OK."

At this stage of his career, Lecavalier's only concern is the Lightning.

"We have a lot of good young guys and it's great that they're learning right now," Lecavalier said. "(Interim coach) Rick Tocchet has been a great communicator with everyone on the team and he understands how we feel as players. When you've been with the same organization for 10 years, you certainly go through your share of ups and downs, but I've always enjoyed playing in Tampa. Winning the Cup (in 2004) is something I'll remember for the rest of my life."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.



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