It became official this week. Former Tampa Bay Lightning captain, Vinny Lecavalier announced his retirement from the NHL. He played in 1,212 games and scored 421 goals and had 949 total points and in addition to the Lightning, suited up for the Philadelphia Flyers before ending his career in Los Angeles with the Kings.
For many Lightning fans, the mere mention of Lecavalier’s name brings fond memories. He was the fresh-faced 18-year-old kid drafted #1 by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1998 NHL draft. At six feet four inches tall, Lecavalier possessed the size that belied his scoring and playmaking abilities.
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Being the first player selected in any draft comes with an inordinate level of expectations. From the organization to the coaches to the fans and even from the player himself. To add to this, a well-meaning but misguided then Lightning owner, Art Williams proclaimed Lecavalier to be the “Michael Jordan” of hockey.
There are still some in town who believe that Lecavalier never lived up to the top draft selection let alone Wiliams’ ludicrous proclamation. But his production while wearing the Bolt sweater is second to none. Lecavalier is first in team history in games played and goals. He is second in assists and points to his old running mate, Marty St. Louis.
In his statement to the media official retirement announcement, Lecavalier said, “Thank you to the Tampa Bay Lightning for drafting me and providing me the opportunity to embark on my NHL career. I will never forget winning the Cup together in 2004, and the incredible support from the Lightning fans.”
As good as Vinny was on the ice, the measure of what he meant to the Tampa Bay area, must include the unwavering commitment Lecavalier and his foundation gave to the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Vinny Lecavalier Foundation raised and donated millions to the hospital during his time in Tampa.
His foundation was so instrumental in helping the hospital and the young lives battling in the fight of their young lives that there now exists a Vinny Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer & Blood Disorders Center at All Children’s. Just imagine how many young people in this town who were so positively affected by the simple fact that Lecavalier was a man of dedication and principle.
He wasn’t just the name associated with a charitable foundation, Lecavalier gave more than simply money. He gave of himself. His time to kids who were ill, his time with local businesses to raise money but more importantly, his time throughout the community to raise awareness.
Lecavalier was no slouch as a player amassing lofty numbers. He won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy leading the NHL in goals in 2006-07. In the following season, Lecavalier was awarded the King Clancy Award given to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution to his community.
During the Stanley Cup run in 2004, Lecavalier was an integral part of the only team in Lighting history to win the Cup so far. During this magical playoff run, he scored nine goals and added seven assists including a helper on the Game 7 game-winning goal.
Game 7, Stanley Cup Final 2004. pic.twitter.com/YnkwGyipsu
— Robert Söderlind (@HockeyWebCast) June 21, 2016
It is however that Lecavalier is best remembered in these parts for his Game 3 fisticuffs with Calgary’s Jarome Iginla. Many fellow Lighting players recognized the leadership Vinny showed them by dropping the gloves. It was one of the sparks the team needed during the series to win the Cup.
Throughout his time in Tampa, Lecavalier stood head and shoulders above his teammates with the local fans. Not so much because of the player that he was on the ice but more so because of the character and integrity of the man. Even when his contract was bought out by the Lightning three summers ago, Vinny stood taller than his 6’4″ by explaining his understanding of the need for the team to take this step despite the move hurting him personally. The guy exuded class from the start.
In his announcement this week, Lecavalier added,
[quote_left author=””]Hockey is the greatest team sport in the world. There is nothing like sharing a locker room with your teammates and competing together day in and day out. I have made lifelong friends and I’d like to thank them for making this an unforgettable journey. Thank you.[/quote_left]
There are so many different memories of Lecavalier that Lightning fans will remember. The Iginla fight in the Stanley Cup. The goal he scored against Montreal in the playoffs in ’04 when he put his stick between his legs to get off the only shot he could which led to one of the prettiest goals I’ve ever witnessed. The Rocket Richard Trophy season and holding the Cup up in 2004.
There are a lot of children and young adults who will never forget this man and it won’t have a damn thing to do with hockey. It was an unforgettable journey for Vinny and on behalf of the entire Tampa Bay area, I’d like to thank Lecavalier for allowing us all to be a part of his story. The love and support that was showered upon Lecavalier was genuine.
Now that his playing career has come to an end, there are just a couple of things missing. First, the Lightning franchise should make Vinny’s number 4 the very first number the team retires. Sure, there can be some very good cases for others to have this honor but is needs to be Vinny. Hands down.
The other thing that would complete this journey would be for Lecavalier to spend a good portion of the year here in the Tampa area where he could continue his charitable work for kids. He ought to know that we are a better community because of him and would welcome him home with open arms. Plus, he needs to be here when his sweater is raised to the rafters at Amalie Arena.