The Lightning had just completed a season in which they won only 19 games and finished fourth in the Southeast Division for the second year in a row. Lecavalier, the first overall draft choice of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1998 NHL Draft, had already established himself as the team's best player in just his second year, scoring a team-high 25 goals and 67 points in 1999-2000.
Outsiders saw his potential wasted in a non-traditional hockey market.
"People were saying, 'You'll never win there. How do you play there? It's hot,' Lecavalier recalled.
"But, obviously, we proved them wrong."
That he most certainly did.
On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced Lecavalier will have his jersey number retired when the Bolts take on the Los Angeles Kings, another former team of Lecavalier's, at AMALIE Arena on February 10, 2018. Lecavalier will become just the second player to have his number retired by the franchise and second in two years, joining longtime teammate Marty St. Louis.
When it was announced St. Louis would have his number retired last year, the first thought from a number of fans was: "Great…but what about Vinny?"
Now, Vinny's time has come.
"Eight years as an owner, this is the second time I get to do this in two years," Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said in his opening remarks announcing the honor. "Vinny Lecavalier is one of the greatest athletes in the history of Tampa Bay sports, there's no doubt about it."
He'll be honored as such by the team and community that grew into a hockey town thanks, in large part, to the efforts of Lecavalier.
"It's a great honor to be here," Lecavalier said. "From watching and being here for Marty's retirement last year, it brought tears to my eyes watching it, watching his jersey go up. To get that phone call from Mr. Vinik and have a chance to be in the same situation or right beside Marty, it's such a great honor. Obviously, I want to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning, the fans who supported me my whole career. I got here in (1998). Hockey was, I don't want to say it wasn't big, it was starting, and this team, this franchise has gone up every single year. Now, it's just one of the best, or the best franchise in North America. So, to be here and to get your jersey retired, it's such a great honor for myself, for my family."
Lecavalier's jersey retirement credentials are unquestioned, but let's look at them anyway.
He finished his 14-season career with Tampa Bay having played more games (1,037) in a Lightning sweater than anybody else. He's also scored more goals (383) and more power-play goals (112) than any other Bolt.
Lecavalier currently ranks second on the Lightning's all-time scoring list with 874 points, trailing St. Louis (953). He also trails only St. Louis for assists (491 to St. Louis' 588) and game-winning goals (60 to St. Louis' 64).
Lecavalier was named captain of the Lightning in only his second season, becoming, at the time, the youngest captain in NHL history at 19 years, 314 days old.
Oh, and there's also that Stanley Cup season he, along with St. Louis, helped engineer in 2003-04, the only one to date for the Lightning.
Yet, that achievement might not qualify as his lasting legacy in Tampa Bay as his generous philanthropic efforts have been even more remarkable. In October 2007, Lecavalier announced a $3-million commitment to build The Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorder Center at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, which is now one of the largest pediatric cancer centers in all of Florida.
He won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy and the NHL Foundation Player Award in 2008 as a result of his commitment and service to charities in the Tampa Bay community.
"You don't really want to be just another hockey player," Lecavalier said. "I feel, not just myself, a lot of hockey guys, I'll take (Steven Stamkos). He's an All-Star, and he does so much for the community. And I feel that I've done a lot. Marty's done a lot. A lot of guys that have been here a long time have really given back to this community because we love it here. Like Mr. Vinik said, (Tampa's) a big small town. We really feel part of it. You don't feel lost in it. Very humble people. It's a great place to be. That's what makes it extra special."
Lecavalier recalled going to hockey games at the old Montreal Forum as a youngster with his father, looking up into the rafters and seeing the numbers of the Canadiens' greats.
Now, when he visits AMALIE Arena, which he'll do often now that he lives in the area, he'll be able to show his kids his number along with that of his good friend St. Louis.
"That's the first thing I'd do when I went to games. I'd sit down with my dad, we'd watch the warmups and then kind of go through the players and the numbers," Lecavalier said. "It's a really great honor to be beside Marty, who I played 12 years with. Marty made such a big impact in my career, and he's done that to a lot of players. But, to be beside him, it's going to be great."
Lecavalier thought back to those phone calls he received following his second season in the league, the doubters who told him he'd never amount to anything with the Lightning, the monumental strides the organization made from its inception through his tenure with the team and to where it is today.
He leans back and smiles.
"I think that's what makes it even more special too because there was a lot of trade rumors for a lot of years, a lot of ups and downs, he said.
"But it was fun."