Dear Vinny --
There are quite a few things, a number of topics about your career or personal or professional life, that I could bring up here in an open letter. From philanthropy to pastimes away from the rink. From the rumors to the... well, the rumors. People usually only want to talk about the rumors with you.
And as tiring as it might get for you, being at the center of that stuff, it gets doubly tiring for the fans. Trust me on that one.
But that's not the point to this open letter. No... It's something more glaring and more jarring, something that coaching as well as your teammates should have already gotten on you about.
It's your shootout plan of attack, which the entire league knows.
The Lecavalier BackhandTM can be a thing of awe when you get it airborne. Watching it loft over a hapless goalie's shoulder and his dumbstruck reaction as it hits the net just behind the crossbar is just awesome to behold... It can also be just as effective when you push it through a hole -- generally on the goalie's left side (your right).
That being said, everyone is looking for it during the shootout. When I say everyone, I do mean everyone. Fans in the building? Yeah. Everyone watching at home? Yup. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio? Absolutely. The guy who offered to clean the windshield of your car the last time you got stuck in a poor section of town? Him too.
"Here you go mister... Oh, and stop with the backhand on the shootout! Every fool knows you gonna' do that!"
It's too vital that the Lightning win that extra point when you get past regulation and go to overtime or the shootout. It's far, far too important at this point. Being trapped in the repetition of your weapon-of-choice is not helping the team, it's not an advantage. It's a liability.
Everyone's looking for it and because of that, it's much easier to defend. Every netminder in the NHL, every coach in the league. They all know what to watch for and how to stop it.
It's time to mix it up a little, and while I said winning the shootout is too important not to do, it's also important to be creative when you're out there. And have some fun too. Take a chance, do something unexpected or even silly.
And please, don't go into it tentatively! The later you wait to make a decision, the less room you have to work with. That seems to be the biggest liability of all - you're out of room to do anything by the time you do something. Last-minute shopping during the holidays is not fun, nor is last-millisecond-shooting.
It's not just you who is getting trapped in habit, or suffering by way of tentativeness. Your teammate, Martin St. Louis, has gotten into a rut and is no longer using his speed to his advantage when attacking the net on the shootout. It's like watching Picasso drawing stick figures when he could be finalizing a masterpiece. We'v eseen him go in one-on-one at even strength and even during the penalty kill and light that lamp time and again.
But now he seemingly doubts his abilities and approaches the shootout with frustration that makes him too tentative for his own good.
And everyone's aware of that one, too.
So, consider this an intervention. It's time to shake things up a little, it's time to change things up on your approach to the shootout...
...because doing what everyone knows is coming is only going to lead to being stymied again and again during the shootout, and generally leaving the team at a disadvantage because of it.