Failure to reclaim captaincy lights fire in Lecavalier
Posted: Friday September 29, 2006 3:53PM; Updated: Wednesday October 4, 2006 5:52PM
Lecavalier's combination of speed, reach and strength makes it easy to expect big things.
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Brian Cazeneuve will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
These are only exhibition games and a "C" is just a letter, so let's not make too much of Vincent Lecavalier's pistol-hot pre-season start. But could there be a connection between his 12-point outburst in his first three contests and the decision during the off-season by Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella to award the captaincy to Tim Taylor, a popular third-line, team-first winger with as much skill in his entire body as Lecavalier possesses in his skate laces?
Here are a few ways to compare the two: Playing in a full 82 games for the third straight season, Taylor amassed 13 points last season, a total Lecavalier, who totaled 75 in 80, should reach by Thanksgiving, even if his season is a turkey. Taylor makes $725,000, or roughly a tenth of what Lecavalier, 26, will earn this season, which means he'll have pocketed Taylor's yearly take-home by Halloween. Scary, huh?
Taylor has played in 83 career playoff games and has scored only twice, but he also brought his Stanley-Cup pedigree to Tampa, having won one with the Red Wings in 1998 before adding a second with the Lightning in 2004. Taylor is an experienced leader, but the choice to make him captain was much more about not giving the honor (and responsibility) to Lecavalier. Tortorella's decision could work in one of two ways: relieve a burden from a star's shoulders or anger him into playing better. Either scenario works.
Remember when Lightning owner Art Williams, the insurance magnate who didn't know a hockey stick from hacky sack, clumsily said that Lecavalier would be the next Michael Jordan after the team drafted him No. 1 in 1998? "I'm not sure why people keep asking me about those comments after so many years," Lecavalier says now.
Instead, Lecavalier has steadily improved, but never to Jordanesque heights. He saved his best hockey for the World Cup during the lockout, when he was named MVP of the tournament. In many ways, he has been caught between two worlds: at 6-4, 220, is he the power forward who scrapped with 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara in last year's playoffs, or the finesse scorer who eludes defenses with ease? In his eighth year, is he the leader the Lightning predicted he'd be when they named him the youngest captain in NHL history in March 2000 or the overburdened talent they realized he'd become when they took the "C" off his chest a year later?
Tortorella felt the distinction was too much pressure for someone who wasn't yet ready to carry the franchise. Even now, he says, it is better not to let symbolism get in the way of a player's comfort level.
The implementation of the salary cap made it difficult for the Lightning to keep its offensive heart of Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis together, but they've done it by cutting corners elsewhere on the roster. The Canadiens heavily courted Lecavalier, a Quebec native, before he decided to re-sign with Tampa Bay, which is a tribute to his loyalty or his team's chances to win more championships -- or just an artful way to dodge what would be the ultimate challenge for a French-Canadian superstar.