Lecavalier adds scoring punch and veteran presence to Flyers

Brayden Schenn, left, and Wayne Simmonds, right, are expected to play on the Flyers' second line with Vinny Lecavalier. "They forecheck really hard. They're really hard on the puck and it's going to give us lots of opportunities," said Lecavalier, who is a center. "The more games you play together, the better it is."
Brayden Schenn, left, and Wayne Simmonds, right, are expected to play on the Flyers' second line with Vinny Lecavalier. "They forecheck really hard. They're really hard on the puck and it's going to give us lots of opportunities," said Lecavalier, who is a center. "The more games you play together, the better it is." (         Staff Photographers)
Posted: October 02, 2013

The Flyers were one of the NHL's worst teams in even-strength situations last season, causing general manager Paul Holmgren to make a significant summertime move.

Enter center/philanthropist Vinny Lecavalier, the former Tampa Bay star who owns a number of the Lighting's records.

Lecavalier, 33, signed to a five-year, $22.5 million free-agent deal in July, gives the Flyers some much-needed size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) up the middle. He also gives them a terrific playmaker, veteran leadership, and dominance in the faceoff circle.

And his presence means teams can't just concentrate on stopping Claude Giroux and his linemates.

"By adding that other piece, it doesn't have to be Claude and his line that other teams only have to focus on as a big player," coach Peter Laviolette said. "Now you put Vinny in that spot and even the development of Sean [Couturier] this year, and you start to put some depth in the line combinations."

In five-on-five situations last season, the Flyers had a 0.86 goals-for/goals-against ratio. Only Colorado, Calgary and Florida - three teams that also didn't make the playoffs - were worse.

Stanley Cup champion Chicago led the league with a staggering 1.52 five-on-five ratio, meaning it scored 1.52 goals for each one it allowed in those even-strength situations.

Lecavalier, who had 10 goals and 32 points in 39 games during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, will give the Flyers better matchups. He will center the No. 2 line, with Wayne Simmonds (15 goals) and Brayden Schenn (eight) as his likely wingers.

"They forecheck really hard. They're really hard on the puck and it's going to give us lots of opportunities," said Lecavalier, an affable sort who served as the Lightning's captain. "The more games you play together, the better it is."

The Flyers need Lecavalier to stay healthy. He has missed time with injuries in each of the last three seasons, including a broken left foot that sidelined him for nine games in 2013. Before the last three years, he had played between 77 and 82 games in five straight seasons. If you omit the shortened 2013 season, Lecavalier has scored at least 20 goals in 12 consecutive years.

The Flyers are counting on that streak growing.

Pride of the Lightning

In Tampa, Lecavalier will always be revered. He'll always be the 23-year-old kid who helped lead the Lighting to the 2004 Stanley Cup. He'll always be legendary for his charity work.

Lecavalier's foundation built a pediatric cancer and blood disorder center that bears his name at a St. Petersburg children's hospital

While his philanthropy has never waned, Lecavalier's on-ice performance has dipped in recent years. For that reason, critics say signing Lecavalier was risky because of his age and the fact that his production has dropped in each of the last four seasons.

That, along with the $37 million left on Lecavalier's deal, is why the Lightning decided to use a compliance buyout on the last seven years of his contract.

Lecavalier, whose 52 goals topped the NHL in 2006-07, was asked if he felt he had something to prove.

"I do, but not to prove Tampa wrong or anything," he said. "For me, it's another challenge the way the year went last year with injuries and not winning. . . . I want to have a good year and help this team out as much as I can. Everybody has something to prove every year. We're all going to push forward."

The Quebec native has not set any personal goals.

"I've never set numbers," he said. "I want to produce, obviously, and help this team as much as I can and be consistent."

An unselfish player, Lecavalier said he sometimes has to remind himself to shoot more often.

"I think it's going to be good, because Simmer and Schenner both get the puck to the net, too, and the other guy will get the rebound and we'll have opportunities."

Tampa played a trapping style, as opposed to the Flyers' attacking system.

"The big difference for me this year is getting the puck in the offensive zone and keeping it - and not just one opportunity and then you're out," Lecavalier said.

Last season, the Flyers lost a majority of board battles and spent too much time in the defensive end. They hope Lecavalier will help change that.

"We've got to play in their zone," he said. "A good defense [is] if you're in their zone a lot more than yours."

After spending 14 years in Tampa, Lecavalier is excited to be in a city that fills the Wells Fargo Center for every home game.

"I hear it from other guys. They tell me this is a very special place," said Lecavalier, who, like many of his teammates, has settled in Haddonfield with his family. "Not just for hockey, but for sports in general. Philadelphia is great, great sports town. . . .

"I wanted to be in a hockey market. I'm not going to lie," Lecavalier added. "Just playing against this team, in this building, this is like a family here. From all the players who have played here, I see all the guys coming back, all the guys living here. You can see this is a tight organization and tight family, and it's something I wanted to be part of."


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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