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30 TAMPA BAY Lightning
Richard Deitsch
October 14, 2002
Is this the season that ultratalented Vincent Lecavalier finally breaks out?
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October 14, 2002

30 Tampa Bay Lightning

Is this the season that ultratalented Vincent Lecavalier finally breaks out?

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Thin group, even if Lecavalier isn't pouting



Lack of speed makes unit easy to forecheck



Khabibulin hides many of team's deficiencies



Small forwards, no quarterback brings PP down



New G.M. Feaster may be in over his head

Brad Lukowich will never forget when he was traded to the Lightning. How could he? It was his wedding day.

Hours before reciting his vows to Cara Kinder on June 23, Lukowich, a defenseman for the Stars when the day started, received a call from Dallas general manager Doug Armstrong. Last-minute wishes for the groom? Not exactly. "I hate to do this to you," Armstrong said before informing Lukowich that he had been dealt to Tampa Bay for a second-round draft pick. "I was excited," Lukowich recalls, "but the first thing that went through my mind was, Oh, God. I can't tell Cara because I'm not supposed to talk to her [before the wedding]." Today the happy couple is looking forward to Brad's increased responsibilities on the ice—and expecting a baby in the spring.

Tampa Bay can only hope such bliss is contagious. Though it has a future All-Star in third-year center Brad Richards (62 points last season), the Lightning produced little thunder on offense last season, ranking 28th in the league with 178 goals. Emblematic of that ineptitude was center Vincent Lecavalier, the ballyhooed No. 1 pick of the 1998 draft who had just 20 goals and 37 points—the third straight season his numbers have dropped—and squabbled with coach John Tortorella to the point at which he was shopped around the league in late November.

In training camp everyone was getting along, and the hope was that Ruslan Fedotenko, a speedy winger acquired from the Flyers for Tampa Bay's 2002 first-round pick, will click with Lecavalier to form a dynamic second line. "It's unlimited as far as what this kid can do," Tortorella says of Lecavalier, who's only 22 as he enters his fifth NHL season. "He has that look in camp, like this is going to be a breakthrough season for him."

The addition of Lukowich brings toughness to a soft defense that also needs the maddeningly inconsistent but talented Pavel Kubina to blossom into a top blueliner. Behind them is the ' Bulin Wall, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who last season had a 2.36 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. With a nod to the team's 19 losses by one goal, Tortorella says, "Nic gives you a chance to win every night."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]