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Lecavalier lands with Flyers after whirlwind week

by Mike Battaglino

Vincent Lecavalier was part of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization for 14 years, and that relationship ended in less than a week.

Free to choose a new NHL home, Lecavalier needed little more than a long weekend to decide on the Philadelphia Flyers.

"[I was] part of an organization for 14 years, so it was a tough few days, but after I talked to [coach Peter Laviolette] and [general manager Paul Holmgren], I really liked what they had to say and where the organization is going," Lecavalier said Saturday, when the Flyers officially announced they had signed the veteran forward.

A No. 1 draft pick, Stanley Cup champion, captain, and admired member of the Tampa Bay community, Lecavalier at first found it difficult to become a compliance buyout.

"When you hear it, it was tough," Lecavalier said. "Like I said, 14 years with the same organization. My mom took it pretty hard, my wife as well; we all enjoyed it there and it was a really good organization.

"But eight hours later, the day after, obviously [there was] a lot of thinking, what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go; I've never been in that situation before, and that's why I wanted to meet a lot of teams and talk to them and see where I wanted to go."

Lecavalier took advantage of the gathering of teams at the NHL Draft in Newark, N.J., last weekend, and said he met with "about 10" there.

"Right after I talked to [Philadelphia], even before any offers or anything, it went right to the top of the list," Lecavalier said.

His new contract reportedly is for five years, $22.5 million, an average annual value of $4.5 million. Lecavalier said the Lightning expressed concern about what would happen if he were to retire before his contract was over, then moved quickly to buy out the seven years and $45 million that were remaining.

Now, the relationship with the Flyers sealed and delivered, Lecavalier, his new coach and teammates can't wait for September to arrive.

He is expected to fill the second-line center role behind captain Claude Giroux, who himself agreed to an eight-year, $66.2 million contract extension this week.

"I'm pretty excited about him coming to Philadelphia," Giroux said. "I would watch him play as I was growing up, and he was just a really exciting player to watch. He plays really hard, and I think the Flyers fans are going to love him too. Obviously, it's exciting."

Perhaps no one is more excited than Laviolette, who sees no limit to the ways he can use his newest star.

"I think it is a very good signing for our club. Vinny brings so many things to our team," Laviolette said. "I really think his experience and his leadership with our young group of forwards and the young players we have will be beneficial to our team's success. …

"He has been an elite player in the NHL since he got here, 13-14 years ago. He has proven that he can play all different positions and all different spots, power play, penalty kill. He is going to be used in a position as one of our top forwards. … We will sort all of this out in training camp. But to bring an elite forward like this in to the mix is a welcome addition."

It also creates a reunion of sorts with Flyers forward Simon Gagne, each a 33-year-old native of Quebec who played with Lecavalier for a season in Tampa Bay.

"We almost had a chance to grow up together. We played against each other since we were like eight years old," Gagne said. "I not only enjoyed playing with him on the ice but having him as a teammate off the ice. He'll be a very good addition to the Flyers."

Lecavalier had 10 goals and 22 assists in 39 games during the 2012-13 season. He was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NHL Draft, and since his rookie season has scored at least 20 goals in each full NHL season he's played.

He won the Stanley Cup in 2003-04 and the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal-scorer with 52 in 2006-07. Lecavalier has 383 goals and 491 assists (874 points) in 1,037 NHL games, and 52 points (24 goals) in 63 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"His role kind of changed over the last couple of seasons in Tampa [Bay] with the arrival of [Steven] Stamkos and younger players," Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said. "He's a guy that if something happened to one of your players on the ice, he liked to protect his teammates. … I know I saw him a couple of times dropping the gloves when somebody would go after one of Tampa's good players. He's a guy with a lot of tools to help the Flyers to be better."

That is all Lecavalier wants to do.

"When you get bought out, it's definitely motivation," Lecavalier said. "I guess I want to prove the Flyers right. It's not about proving anybody else wrong."

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