Vinny Lecavalier Comes Full Circle for Tampa Bay

S BCorrespondent INovember 3, 2009

WASHINGTON - APRIL 15:  Vincent Lecavalier #4 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates with Dan Boyle #22 after Lecavalier scored the game winning goal in overtime against the Washington Capitals in game three of the first round of the 2003 Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoffs at the MCI Center on April 15, 2003 in Washington, DC. The Lightning defeated the Capitals 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images/NHLI)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Vinny Lecavalier is under siege in Tampa with Rick Tocchet seemingly angrier and angrier with the franchise center.

Twelve games into the season, Lecavalier had a goal and nine assists. He's been demoted from the top two lines. He's been called out by Tocchet. Puck Daddy has a great summary of the drama here .

The only thing that hasn't happened is a benching, and that could happen soon. Don't be fooled by Lecavalier's strong game against Toronto Tuesday night. Lecavalier is struggling.

The question everyone is asking is how this could happen to Lecavalier. But a better question is why hasn't this happened sooner?

People think of Lecavalier and they think of a lot of things. The 2004 Stanley Cup. The 11 year/$85 million contract. The 52 goal season in 2006-07. The 40 goal campaign in 2007-08.

But before all of that, Lecavalier was a huge disappointment in Tampa. Selected number one overall in 1998, he had a solid rookie year, but nothing like the rookies years that would be had by Alex Tanguay, Scott Gomez, and Simon Gagne, all of whom were drafted behind Lecavalier. But Lecavalier went straight from the draft into the NHL and maybe that was too much pressure for him.

By 2000, Lecavalier seemed to have adjusted to life in the NHL. So much so, the Lightning traded away Chris Gratton and made Lecavalier team captain. Lecavalier was just 19, at the time, the youngest captain in NHL history. He would finish that season, his second, with 25 goals and a  minus 25 plus/minus.

That would be Lecavalier's best goal production year until 2002-03, when he scored over 30 goals for the first time in his career.

Lecavalier was coasting, refusing to live up to his potential and his leadership responsibilities. He held out before the 2001 season, returning to the team toward the start of the season. The holdout cost Lecavalier his captaincy, though. He wouldn't wear  the 'C' again until the start of the 2008 season.

It's easy to look at Lecavalier and see a player who's fallen on tough times. But if you look at his career, the past few seasons we saw a Lecavalier who was uncharacteristically focused and driven. Lecavalier now doesn't seem stuck in a rut, so much as he seems back to normal.

And now the Lightning have to figure out how to get him going again—assuming that's even possible.

Tocchet seems to be taking the same approach coach John Tortorella took with Lecavalier and is trying to publicly berate and shame him into playing better. The good news is that it worked for Tortorella. The bad news is Lecavalier probably developed quite a thick skin over all of those years of benchings and screaming.

Worse yet, the young and impressionable Steve Stamkos, off to a very strong start in Tampa, is getting a ringside seat for this circus. Will Lecavalier's lack of a work ethic soon rub off on young Stamkos?

The Lightning have the ingredients for quite a little disaster. The franchise that thought Barry Melrose could still coach must figure out how to keep their franchise player from spending the next decade wading in mediocrity.

Let's see if the Lightning can find Lecavalier's on-switch one more time.