Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis took diametrically opposite paths to reach legendary status with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
St. Louis was the scrappy, undrafted underdog who nearly had his NHL career derailed before it could even take off when the Calgary Flames deemed he was too small to play and would never amount to anything. Tampa Bay gave St. Louis a free agent tryout, St. Louis proved diminutive players can make an impact and 13 seasons later, he was the owner of a Hart Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy, three Lady Byng Memorial Trophies, a Lester B. Pearson Award, six All-Star Game appearances, franchise records for points (953) and assists (588) and, oh by the way, a Stanley Cup in 2004.
Lecavalier, alternatively, was the golden boy, a can't-miss prospect famously labeled as the "Michael Jordan of hockey" by then Lightning owner Art Williams when Tampa Bay selected him first overall in the 1998 NHL Draft and a player who delivered on those lofty expectations with four All-Star Game appearances, a Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy, a King Clancy Memorial Trophy, a NHL Foundation Player Award, franchise records for goals (383) and games played (1,037) and, oh by the way, a Stanley Cup in 2004.
The two superstars may have gone on a different journey during their hockey careers, but they each reached the same destination: a spot high up in the rafters at AMALIE Arena.
On Saturday, February 10, Lecavalier will have his No. 4 retired by the Tampa Bay Lightning and his banner cementing his all-timer status raised alongside his teammate and good friend St. Louis, who had his jersey retired last season in an emotional ceremony.
St. Louis and Lecavalier are the first two players to have their numbers retired in Lightning history.
During a press conference on Thursday, Lecavalier was asked if it was fitting he would go to the rafters side by side with St. Louis, the two players intrinsically linked to one another despite their dissimilar paths to greatness.
"We have a lot of history together," Lecavalier said. "For me, (St. Louis) doesn't know this but it goes even further because I kind of grew up watching Marty, not every game, but he would always play against my brother [Philippe Lecavalier]. So I always heard the name Martin St. Louis when I was seven, eight, nine years old. For me to play with him and have the opportunity to do that, and for him to kind of, I don't want to say come out of nowhere, but not playing in Calgary and then coming here and having the impact that he did and us being together for so long and playing together on the same line, winning a Stanley Cup, obviously there's a lot of history with us and it's definitely an honor for my number to be next to his."
Lecavalier's path to superstardom wasn't as smooth as his top draft pick status would lead one to believe. He was demoted to the fourth line early in his career and briefly benched, rebounding to put up 13 goals and 28 points in a solid but unconvincing rookie season for a number one pick.
He was handed the Lightning's captaincy in his second season at 19 years old, becoming, at the time, the youngest captain in NHL history. But he had that honor stripped after two seasons and he butted heads frequently with head coach John Tortorella when the latter became the Bolts' bench boss in 2000.
Those early setbacks, however, were necessary in shaping Lecavalier into the player he would become.
"The first two years (playing under Tortorella) were tough, I've got to tell you. It wasn't easy," Lecavalier said. "I was given a lot my second season at 19 and 20 and I think Torts probably saw something, he said, 'Well, maybe it's time to reel it back in a little bit.' When you're given a lot, it's tough to get it kind of taken away from you. So it was a tough transition for a couple of years, but now looking back, and I say it because I had Darryl Sutter as well in my last year, I think the best I was playing hockey was when a coach was like Torts, all over the players, in a good way but like…there's no breaks. During the season, there's 82 games, there's no nights off. He pushes you to be better. I realize that many years later. We won the Cup together. He did a lot of good things, Torts, for me, and I'm really happy I went through that rough couple years because after that I think it really helped me for the long run."
Lecavalier's breakout season came in 2002-03 when he scored 33 goals and added 45 assists to guide the Lightning to the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history. Lecavalier scored 30-plus goals five-straight seasons from 2002-08, registering a career high 52 in 2006-07 to edge Ottawa's Dany Heatley (50) for the first Rocket Richard Trophy in team history. He was a driving force behind the Lightning's four-straight playoff appearances from 2003-2007 and, of course, that Stanley Cup, the only one to date in franchise history, in 2004. He scored more power-play goals (112) than any other player in Tampa Bay history until Steven Stamkos eclipsed his mark earlier this season.
Yet, for all those achievements, Lecavalier's lasting legacy in Tampa Bay might just be his generous philanthropic efforts. 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.
Video: Morning Skate Show | Lecavalier
He won the King Clancy and the NHL Foundation Player Award in 2008 as a result of his commitment and service to charities in the Tampa Bay community.
"What he did away from the rink I think is just as or even more impressive as his career, the involvement in the community for him and what he did with the Children's Cancer Center," Stamkos said. "It was just a pleasure to watch him do that, and a lot of guys really looked up to him for that as well. It's going to be a huge honor for him obviously on Saturday and looking forward to being a part of that."
Following the 2012-13 season, Lecavalier's contract was bought out by the Lightning, and he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, where he played for three seasons before being traded in 2015-16 to the Los Angeles Kings, where he played for one season before announcing his retirement.
Now close to two years since he last laced up the skates in an NHL game, Lecavalier was asked at his jersey retirement press conference if he missed playing.
"I don't miss the traveling," he joked. "These guys are gone all the time. But, yeah, I come to the games and sometimes I watch and I do miss it. But…I go home and I see my kids and I love being involved in their lives right now at the age that they are and I certainly couldn't do that if I was still playing. I'm happy and I'm good where I'm at right now.
"I think I finished on a good note."