It may actually be easy to forget just how long Vincent Lecavalier has been the face of the Tampa Bay Lightning and an equally important representative of the Bay Area because, as he admits, it has all been a blur. But, Tuesday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, when Lecavalier, who emerged in the NHL for the 1998-99 season as a highly-touted first overall pick, played in his franchise-leading 900th career game should serve as a reminder.
Lecavalier currently has the ninth-most NHL games played among active players that have spent their career in one organization. It is yet another feat that will be added to the list of the many accomplishments that he may never have expected to achieve.
“When I was younger I never really thought, when I watched hockey games, that it could actually be me one day,” Lecavalier said. “Of course I dreamed about it, but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I even considered it an actual possibility.”
The now 30-year-old captain of the Lightning was drafted in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft and has since set franchise records for games played (899), goals (334), points (760) and power play goals (93). He has also represented the Lightning in four All Star Games and is second in all-time franchise history for game-winning goals (51) and assists (426) behind teammate, alternate captain, Martin St. Louis in both categories.
Although the numbers are seemingly glamorous, the same cannot be said for all of the seasons and games that it took to achieve them. Along his path with the Lightning, Lecavalier encountered a tremendous amount of adversity.
“There have been some tough times here,” Lecavalier explains when asked about the evolution of the franchise. “My first few years with the organization we pretty much finished in last place; that was not a lot of fun. And, the past few seasons I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be with the team.”
Despite those uncertainties Lecavalier never lost site of his devotion to the Lightning organization, choosing to sign an 11-year contract extension in 2008 that, effectively, will take him through the 2019-20 season and the age of 40.
Considering that there are currently only five players in the NHL who are actively playing at the age of 40, one would not be surprised to hear that Lecavalier may find the challenge of playing in to those years daunting. But, it is actually quite opposite. He is more intrigued and inspired by the possibility.
“I’d love to play another decade in this league,” said Lecavalier. “I have a lot of respect for the guys who are over 40 and still playing. They are pretty beat up but they keep going. It’s inspiring to see these guys for so many years.
“I don’t even consider myself an old guy. I still feel very strong. I work out in the summer and during the season to be in shape and stay in condition to stay on top of it. Staying healthy is the most important thing so I train hard and try to take care of myself.”
It is especially great news considering Lecavalier, whose play is motivated by the fun he derives from winning, is confident that the Lightning is now, “going in the right direction and doing the right things to win.”
It’s very rare in this day and age of sports to find a player who is that committed to his organization. In many instances players are driven by the allure of money and new opportunities. Not in this instance.
Lecavalier is the special case where a player loves his town just as much as the fans appreciate and love him remaining in it.
Maybe Vinny foresaw the impending 180-degree transition that the Lightning organization was going to take or maybe he just didn’t want to quit on the organization that afforded him the opportunity to become the star that he has become. Whatever his motivation, it appears that his loyalty is again paying dividends as his team sits atop the Southeast Division standings and looks poised to once again return to the playoffs.
Soon enough the 900-game milestone will be a distant memory that will inevitably be padded by more games and more remarkable numbers in an already illustrious career. For now, it is just one more stone that he has stepped on his journey as a member of his one and only team; the Lightning.
“I’m proud to be a part of the Lightning,” said Lecavalier. “I’ve had so many good memories here in Tampa. I’ve always said that I want to finish my career here with the Lightning and I plan to keep that promise.”