If the excitement and energy that's blaring out of Vinny Lecavalier's voice comes pouring out in his play this season, then the Tampa Bay center will again find himself lumped in with the NHL's elite.
After losing for three years, automatically you have that motivation that you don't want to lose again, that you want to make it to the playoffs and go from there, but to have the whole new organization, I'm just really excited to start camp and get going, to learn new things from Guy" - Vincent Lecavalier
Lecavalier can't remember when he was this excited for training camp to start.
"It's obvious they want to make this a first-class organization," he told NHL.com.
It's a new era for the Bolts, with Jeff Vinik watching from the owner's box as GM Steve Yzerman runs the show from the front office and Guy Boucher guides the team from the bench.
The captain is pumped.
"After losing for three years, automatically you have that motivation that you don't want to lose again, that you want to make it to the playoffs and go from there, but to have the whole new organization, I'm just really excited to start camp and get going, to learn new things from Guy," Lecavalier said. "Everybody is excited. All the guys I have talked to and texted with, they have all heard the same things and they're all just as excited."
Yzerman said he spoke with Lecavalier in June when he went to Montreal. This was after Boucher was hired, but before the GM brought Pavel Kubina back to the organization and traded for Lecavalier's old friend, Simon Gagne. Yzerman, too, could sense Lecavalier's growing level of excitement and anticipation for the immediate future of the Bolts.
That enthusiasm was missing in recent years as Lecavalier has battled inconsistency and nagging injuries while the Lightning have been among the NHL's worst teams.
After averaging 100 points per season from 2006-08, Lecavalier's production dipped to an average of 68.5 points per over the last two seasons. He was a minus-16 last season, when he had 70 points in 82 games.
Mind you, 70 points is respectable for a lot of players, but it's pedestrian for Lecavalier, who had 108 points on 52 goals and 56 assists in 2006-07 and 92 points on 40 goals and 52 assists the following season.
"In fairness to Vinny, he's battled injuries for two or three years now, and as a former player I know that takes its toll on you and you just don't come back overnight from injuries," Yzerman told NHL.com.
Yes, but even Yzerman can't deny that the injuries only partly led to Lecavalier's struggles. He was discontent with the path of the organization and the subject of rampant trade rumors, so much so that at the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal he had to hold his own press conference to discuss all that.
"A lot of things went on and I wasn't here, so I can't really comment on it," Yzerman said. "Our expectations are high and I let Vinny know that."
He knows it. He loves it.
"Vinny has told reporters that he's excited, and trust me, talking to me, it's been a long time since I've heard Vinny be that excited," Montreal forward Mathieu Darche, one of Lecavalier's best friends in hockey, told NHL.com. "He's had some talks with Guy and he really likes the discussions he's had. He likes the new approach, the think-outside-the-box approach. Guy is all about speed and execution and I think that'll fit Vinny's game right away."
Darche, who played with Lecavalier in Tampa during the 2007-08 season, has given Lecavalier the lowdown on Boucher, a person he's known for two decades and played under last season in Hamilton of the AHL.
"Mathieu said his communication skills, with his degree in psychology, and the way he treats people and the way he talks to different players differently are great," Lecavalier said. "Obviously that's the off-ice stuff. As for systems, he said he has a good defensive system but his power play and his systems in general were just phenomenal. He started telling me things and I was immediately impressed. It was a lot of things I had never heard before."
Once Lecavalier met Boucher, his appreciation for the coach grew. He also realized why Darche used the word "unorthodox" to describe Boucher.
"I wasn't quite sure what Mathieu meant until I met Guy and saw how intense he was and how his systems are different, things I never really thought of or other teams haven't thought of," Lecavalier said. "When you get to NHL it seems that every team, or mostly every team, plays the same system -- power play, defensive zone -- but he brings in different things. Obviously I really can't say what they are, but they're things that really impressed me. They make a lot sense."
Darche is confident that his friend will rebound in a big way under Boucher.
"I keep telling my buddies, if you have a pool next year to take Vinny because Guy is the perfect fit for that team," Darche said. "He's going to get Vinny going."
Maybe Boucher already has. That excitement you hear in Lecavalier's voice could very well be the proof, and a sign of what's in store for No. 4.
"Everybody knows when Vinny is at his top we have a main horse there that can do so many things," Boucher told NHL.com. "I've always believed in Lecavalier. I have seen him play at his best. I know the family. It's perfect for him for things to fall into place. He's a tremendous player and certainly the team will be able to follow him in anything he does well."Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer