In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to write this for another few years. In that world, we would be talking about Vincent Lecavalier entering the final season of the historic 11-year $85 million contract that he signed back in 2009. There would be no doubts about his hall of fame eligibility. Instead of raising a banner retiring his number, we would have celebrated his 450th goal and his 1,000th point and maybe, just maybe, another Stanley Cup.
Unfortunately, as we are reminded almost minute by minute, we are living in a world that is far from perfect. So instead of having the joy of watching the first superstar in Lightning history retire after an entire career spent in the Tampa area, we see him passed over in his first year of eligibility to join the Hall of Fame as an honoured member and we realize it’s already been three years since he’s played in the NHL and five years since he pulled on a Tampa Bay sweater.
As the resident crusader for Hall of Fame causes, I should probably be a little more upset that the calls came and went this week without Lecavalier receiving one. As an unabashed fan of Lecavalier (he is still my all time favorite Lightning player), I should probably be penning an angry screed about how the numbers don’t dictate how good of a player he was for some very bad, very undercovered Lightning teams.
While playing in a small, non-traditional market has its fair share of benefits, it doesn’t always help when trying to drum up support for post-career awards. Would Lecavalier be getting more of a public push had he put up identical numbers for the New York Rangers or the Montreal Canadiens? Probably. Hell, if he had won a Cup for the Canadiens, he would have automatically been enshrined before the confetti was swept up from the victory parade.
Instead, I’m ok with it. As much fun as it would have been heading up to Toronto in November and fanboying about seeing one of my all time favorite players getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, it’s perfectly fine that Lecavalier didn’t get the phone call this year. There will be no angry words here or half-hearted internet campaigns for next year. Heck, I’m not even going to have a sticker made to tout his credentials.* At least not yet.
I’m sure as time goes by, my feelings might change. After all, this is the Hockey Hall of Fame we’re talking about. Anyone who did anything remotely outstanding eventually gets in. If he hadn’t lost a year of his prime to the lockout, the argument as a first ballot hall of famer would definitely be a lot stronger. Scoring 30-40 goals for the Lightning in 2004-05 would have looked a lot better for his career stats than the 7 he scored for Ak Bars Kazan during the lockout.
Lecavalier had a really, really good career. Following the lockout, he was one of the top offensive players in the league and captured the last Rocket Richard trophy prior to Alex Ovachkin deciding that he would make that award his own. Seriously, he’s won it eight times in the last twelve seasons. Just call it the Ovechkin Trophy at this point. Then injuries started to take their toll and while I’m not saying it’s Matt Cooke’s fault, I may have alluded to it at one point.
He doesn’t have any of the shiny numbers that voters like (500 goals and 1,000 points look really nice in the post-lockout era) and his peak wasn’t really that long. Still, when he was at his peak, he was one of the most dominant players in the game.
Lecavalier also checks off some of those odd, unofficial moments that really don’t count towards Hall of Fame enshrinement but do count towards remembering a very good player.
Overall number one draft pick - check.
Cover of a video game - check
NHL Commercial featuring him playing a video game - check
Cover of a box of hockey cards - check
Iconic Stanley Cup Finals Moment - check
Sweet poster featuring the greatest uniform in Lightning history - check
When I spoke with him last year prior to Martin St. Louis’ induction, Lecavalier appeared content with his career and happy with the honors he had received so far (and like he could skate more than a few shifts if needed).
We all want the players we cheered for the hardest to be recognized not only locally, but throughout the game. There is an extra level of pride in saying, “Hey that player that I followed from day one is one of the best of the best.” But it’s not always meant to be.
His number hangs from the rafters at Amalie Arena. His name is scattered all over the Lightning record book. Steven Stamkos is hot on his heels, but Lecavalier still leads in games played, even strength goals and shots. Twelve straight seasons of 20 or more goals is nothing to sneeze about in any era of hockey.
Everytime we walk into Amalie Arena and we see his number 4, we are reminded of what he did for Lightning fans. We can search YouTube and be reminded of the great times. When he was drafted, the Lightning were a laughing stock of a franchise. His production on the ice, along with Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Dave Andreychuck and others, changed that.
Even during some of the dark times, his ability on the ice made us forget about ownership squabbles and relocation talk. He thrived despite constant trade rumors and a never ending cycle of linemates. Signing his 11-year extension gave the new owners at the time (those that shall not be named) a sense of legitimacy and a sense of stability that they would eventually fritter away.
The good will Lecavalier built up was apparent when the new, new ownership group bought out his contract following the work stoppage. Not many blamed him or his contract for the team’s struggles, rather they wished him well. It did help that there was a kid named Stamkos ready to seize the role of dominating offensive center, but most fans seemed to want to see things work out with Lecavalier still on the roster. He never found the success he enjoyed in Tampa and quietly retired after the 2016 postseason.
His most important legacy may be that his name appears on the 7th floor of the All Children’s Hospital at the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. The 18-year-old kid from Ile Bizard who came to Florida with the weight of a franchise on his shoulders became a pretty big deal in Tampa, both on the ice and off.
Even if he never hears Lanny MacDonald on the other end of the phone congratulating him, that’s still a pretty damn good legacy.
P.S. This photo alone should be worthy of Hall of Fame Induction
*FYI, there are plenty of Andreychuk stickers left. If you want one, reach out and I’ll mail one out to you. No, really, please reach out. I need to get rid of them.