Vincent Lecavalier: No Offense, but Can He Get His Career Back Going With Tampa?

Mike PascaleCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2011

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 25:  Vincent Lecavalier #4 of the Tampa Bay Lightning gets ready for a face-off against the Toronto Maple Leafs at St. Pete Times Forum on January 25, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.  The Lightning defeated the Leafs 2-0.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

I occasionally listen to local sports radio in Tampa, and I recently woke up to hear that the Lightning allowed six consecutive goals in a 7-4 loss to Buffalo.

However, instead of focusing on their defensive collapse and poor goaltending, the radio host decided to discuss Vincent Lecavalier.

Lecavalier scored two goals in the game, and I suppose that caused the host to reflect on his productivity this season.

But rather than saying that Lecavalier wasn’t contributing enough offensively, with only 11 goals and 17 assists in 39 games this season, the host seemed to imply that he was just going through a lull in this career.

For the record, Lecavalier has 64 goals in his last 198 games over three seasons. That’s quite a lull for a superstar with a $7.7 million annual salary cap number.

The host continued by saying that Lightning GM Steve Yzerman understood what Lecavalier was going through since Yzerman himself also had down years in his career.

Now I remember the Hall of Famer being a consistent, high-level performer throughout most of his 22-year career with the Red Wings, so I decided to look it up—and the guy on the radio was right.

In the 1994-95 lockout-shortened NHL season, Yzerman had 38 points in 47 games. That’s a decent season for most, but one that fell far short of his previous year’s totals.

He bounced back in 1995-96 by tallying 95 points in 80 games and winning his first Stanley Cup. However, in his next six seasons he became more of a point per game type player. Gone were the days of gaudy 50-plus goal and 100-plus point seasons. Yzerman was 31 when his “lull” began.

That brings us back to Lecavalier. He had mediocre numbers early in his career, only averaging 57 points a season his first seven years in the league. Even the season the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2003-04, he only had 66 points in 81 games. Hardly the totals you would expect from a 24-year-old No. 1 overall pick.

Actually, when you look at Lecavalier’s career statistics, you only see two stellar seasons, in 2006-07 and 2007-08, when he had a total of 200 points. So perhaps the question that should be asked isn’t if he is just in a prolonged funk, but rather if he simply had two career years and now is who he is.

The previous Lightning ownership group and general manager Brian Lawton did a lot of things wrong during their brief time in Tampa. Most notable was hiring Barry Melrose and trading beloved, fan favorite players, as well as 2010 All-Stars, Brad Richards and Dan Boyle.

But was signing Vincent Lecavalier to an 11-year, $85 million contract in July of 2008 the worst decision that they made? Lecavalier turns 31 in April, so one has to wonder if, like Yzerman at the same age, his career isn’t just in a lull but in decline. The Lightning have 69 million reasons over the next nine years to hope it’s not.