Philadelphia Flyers' Early Playoff Bail-out on Vincent Lecavalier Is Troubling

Phil Keidel@@PhilKeidelContributor IIApril 18, 2014

Action shots of Lecavalier from Game 1 are tough to find.
Action shots of Lecavalier from Game 1 are tough to find.Scott Levy/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers lost an eminently winnable Game 1 of their first round Stanley Cup Playoff series with the New York Rangers because someone named Jason Akeson hit Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin in the mouth with his stick.

That is the easy narrative, anyway. Before Game 1, the 23-year-old Akeson had played two regular-season National Hockey League games in his entire life.

His third NHL game, a playoff opener, featured Akeson sitting in the penalty box while the Rangers scored on both halves of his third period double-minor penalty for high-sticking Hagelin. Those two Rangers goals turned a taut 1-1 game into a foregone conclusion.

The aftermath of Game 1 found plenty of media types overanalyzing Akeson's role in the Flyers' loss. The kid was to blame.

Another Flyers center skated away more or less unscathed, both literally and figuratively since he did not play much hockey in New York on the night.

The Flyers signed Vincent Lecavalier to a reported five-year, $22.5 million contract this past July, per Pierre Lebrun of

Lebrun summarized Lecavalier's resume at the time by saying, "The four-time All-Star, drafted No. 1 overall by the Lightning in 1998, helped the franchise win the Stanley Cup in 2004 and scored a franchise-high 383 goals."

That was the good news.

Lebrun also tossed in that the "6-foot-4, 208-pound center is no longer the serious threat that he once was."

Akeson's loose stick cost the Flyers dearly.
Akeson's loose stick cost the Flyers dearly.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Lecavalier had an uneven season in Philadelphia, struggling but ultimately succeeding in scoring at least 20 goals for the fifth time in the past six seasons.

Theoretically, though, a signing like Lecavalier's is not made with January Saturday nights in Phoenix or February Monday nights in San Jose in mind.

A signing like Lecavalier's is made with playoff hockey in mind.

In Game 1 of this series, Lecavalier played 7:42 without managing even one shot.

Even in the past month when Flyers coach Craig Berube moved Lecavalier on and off the fourth line to motivate him, Lecavalier never played fewer than 11 minutes.

But with the Flyers desperately needing to break a Madison Square Garden jinx, Berube played Lecavalier sparingly while giving Akeson 13:07 of ice time. Even that statistic is misleading, since Akeson probably would have played more had he not spent that time in the penalty box.

Lecavalier's pseudo-benching in the first game of this playoff series is damning, damaging stuff for everyone involved.

For Lecavalier, it is an embarrassing indictment of his erosion as a player. One can only imagine what was going through his head watching his old teammate Brad Richards eviscerating the Flyers in the third period.

For Berube, the decision to play Akeson almost twice as long as Lecavalier is at best puzzling and at worst sort of insane.

And for the organization, seeing Lecavalier willfully held out of so much of the action in a playoff game makes their commitment in years and dollars to the center (who will turn 34 on April 21) seem at once desperate and misguided.

There is nothing about any of this that a crucial Lecavalier goal (or three) in Game 2 would not solve.

Then again, had Lecavalier done anything in Game 1, we wouldn't be having this conversation.