Before the season, Vincent Lecavalier was expected to bounce back for the Philadelphia Flyers and anchor the team’s second or third line.
While a player who scored 20 goals last season shouldn’t be considered in the bounce-back category, Lecavalier’s campaign was met with criticism that the 16-year veteran didn’t have much left in the tank – at least as much as many thought.
Although reports came out that Lecavalier entered training camp in great shape, the problems that stemmed from last year carried over into the first few games of the season — the center was still too slow to play the 200-foot game that head coach Craig Berube harps his forwards implement into their play.
Once Lecavalier became hampered by an injury early in the season, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare emerged as a candidate to take over his second-line duties, centering a line with Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. The results have been better than the Flyers previously hoped. Bellemare’s line has been one of the steadiest in terms of possession for the Flyers, and the French rookie’s ability and desire to carry the puck into the offensive zone, paired with his defensive IQ, are a few reasons why people have raved over the impact he’s made in such a short amount of time.
However, with Lecavalier set to return in the imminent future, where does Berube slot the 34-year-old? Philadelphia is left in a precarious position and may need take up an option that isn’t the strongest financially, but for the team’s structure it’s the most effective — place Lecavalier on the fourth line, again.
Lecavalier got a taste of the fourth line near the end of last season when the Flyers were trying to keep Schenn on track developmentally as a center. From March 26 and throughout much of the postseason, Lecavalier displayed effectiveness in shorter spurts for the Flyers, lighting the lamp five times in 10 games.
Philadelphia came into the season aspiring to be a better possession team and have the ability to roll out four lines any given night. This method was effective through the first few games with Bellemare handling responsibilities on the fourth line, but with his emergence now as a top-six forward, Lecavalier may be the one who is the odd man out of top-nine minutes.
Lecavalier’s $4.5 million price tag is a little hefty for a fourth liner, but he will be given the chance to hit the ice for more than just even-strength time. Lecavalier still has a prominent role on the Flyers power-play unit, specifically filling the vacant role in the slot formerly occupied by Scott Hartnell. Lecavalier’s quick wrister and powerful shot make it only natural to slide him back in that role. This way, while his minutes at even-strength are down, the 16-year veteran will still be placed in advantageous opportunities to put the puck in the net.
One thing is growing abundantly clear: Lecavalier has become a square peg and the Flyers are a circle — it just doesn’t seem to quite fit.