Born April 21. 1980 in L’Île-Bizard, Quebec, Canada, Lecavalier gained interest from junior teams for his excellent showing at the 1994 Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament. He was then selected fourth overall by the Rimouski Oceanic in the 1996 QMJHL Entry Draft.
Lecavalier only needed two seasons of junior hockey to prove he was one of the premier prospects heading into the 1998 draft. During his first season with the Oceanic he won the Michel Bergeron Trophy as the QMJHL’s top rookie forward when he scored 103 points. He would top his rookie numbers in his second season with 44 goals and 115 points in just 58 games.
Lecavalier was far and away to top prospect in the 1998 draft and was selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The new owner of the Lightning at the time called Lecavalier the “Michael Jordan of hockey”.
Lecavalier debuted for the Lightning during the 1998-99 season, but the season was a miserable on for Tampa Bay. They finished dead last in the NHL with just 19 wins on the season. Lecavalier wasn’t immune to the teams struggles as he only scored 13 goals and 28 points in all 82 games, not living up to his early hype.
His sophomore season was better, scoring 25 goals and 67 points, which was good enough for both first in goals, assists, and points on the team. Towards the end of the season he was named captain, which made him the youngest captain in NHL history at the time ( which has since been broken by Crosby, Landeskog, and McDavid).
He led the team as captain heading into the 2000-01 season but his play was underwhelming to say the least, taking a step back from his point totals from the season before, scoring just 51 points. The Lightning fired coach Steve Ludzik 39 games into the season and was replaced with John Tortorella, which was a detriment to Lecavalier, who often clashed with the coach.
Due to his underwhelming play and feud with Torterella, Lecavalier was stripped of the captaincy before the 2001-02 season. He’d have his worse season until 2012 when he scored just 20 goals and 37 points.
Lecavalier’s play noticeably matured the following season in 2002-03. The Lightning finally made the playoffs thanks in part to the trio of Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Brad Richards. Lecavalier posted career highs to that point with 33 goals and 78 points. The Bolts made it to the second round before losing to the Devils in five games. Lecavalier scored three goals and three assists in his first eleven playoff games of his career.
Tampa Bay was able to catch lightning in a bottle during the 2003-04 season as they finished top of the East during the regular season. Lecavalier played more of a leadership role as the offensive burden was carried mainly by Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards. He finished fourth on the team in scoring during the regular season. He played a huge role for the Bolts in the playoffs, scoring nine goals and 16 points in 23 games as the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. A few months after the season ended in August, Lecavalier also won gold at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey with Team Canada.
During the 2004-05 lockout, he joined teammates Brad Richards and Nikolai Khabibulin to play for Ak Bars Kazan of the then-Russian Superleague.
When the NHL resumed in 2005-06, the Lightning managed to keep a majority of their core together, but were unable to replicate their previous Stanley Cup winning season. Lecavalier once again found his scoring touch, registering 35 goals and 75 points and the Bolts once again found themselves in the playoffs after squeaking in as the eighth seed in the East, but they lost in five games in the first round to the Senators.
The Lightning’s team offense exploded during the 2006-07 season thanks to the dynamic duo of Lecavalier and St. Louis. On March 30, 2007 he became the first player in Lightning history to score 50 goals in one season. He finished with 52 goals and 108 points, winning the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer. The Lightning snagged the seventh seed in the playoffs, but again lost in the first round, this time to the Devils in six games.
The Bolts once again found themselves at the bottom of the league in 2007-08. Even though Lecavalier’s number only dipped slightly from his personal best the season before, scoring 40 goals and 92 points. Lecavalier would win the King Clancey Memorial Trophy and the NHL Foundation Player Award, both awarded for his leadership and dedication to hockey on and off the ice. During the season, Lecavalier had an eight-game multi-point streak, the first to do so since Jaromir Jagr in 1996. Lecavalier would undergo shoulder surgery in the offseason to repair an injury caused by Matt Cooke, then went for wrist surgery later in the summer.
During the same offseason, Lecavalier signed a massive 11-year, $85 Million contract that would have locked him up until the 2019-20 season.
The Lightning organization made drastic changes after finishing dead last the season before. they fired coach John Tortorella after multiple incidents with the goaltenders. The team was sold to television producer Oren Koules, who secured the teams long-term future in Tampa. They hired Barry Melrose to replace Tortorella, his first coaching job since 1995. Goaltender Marc Denis was bought out and was originally replace by Olaf Kolzig, but a biceps injury ended his run just eight games in. Mike Smith was later acquired from the Dallas Stars and took the starting reins. Other players acquired were Matt Carle, Andrej Meszaros, Ryan Malone, and Gary Roberts.
before the 2008-09 season, Lecavalier was renamed captain of the Lightning, almost exactly seven years after he was stripped of the title. Due to his injuries and surgeries the season before, his point totals dropped drastically to just 29 goals and 67 points. The Lighting finished 14th in the East.
Going into the 2009-10 season, the Bolts didn’t make many moves. They signed Antero Niittymaki to form a tandem with Mike Smith. The biggest addition was second overall draft pick Victor Hedman, who was widely considered to be a superstar in the making.
Steven Stamkos, who was drafted first overall in 2008, exploded onto the scene, scoring 51 goals and 96 points. Lecavalier was still struggling, but posted the last elite numbers of his career with 24 goals and 70 points.
As the 2010-11 season started, the organization named Steve Yzerman as the new GM. The Lightning got out to a strong start, mainly thanks to Steven Stamkos. Even though Lecavalier missed the month of November with a broken hand that required surgery. Lecavalier formed a lethal trio with St. Louis and Stamkos to lead the Lightining to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The Lightning beat the Penguins in seven games in the first round, swept the Capitals in the second round, but lost to the Bruins in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final. Lecavalier scored six goals and 19 points in 18 games, second only in scoring to Marty St. Louis who had 20 points.
The 2011-12 season was a bust for the Lightning, who narrowly missed the playoffs mainly due to the play of aging goaltending tandem Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon, and long term injuries to stars St. Louis and Lecavalier. Lecavalier only scored 49 points in 64 games.
The 2012-13 lockout cut the season to just 48 games. The Lightning started the season with a 6-17-1 record which prompted Yzerman to fire coach Guy Boucher and hire John Cooper. The Bolts acquired Ben Bishop at the trade deadline to shore up the goaltending as Anders Lindback was not playing well. Lecavalier scored 10 goals and 32 points in 39 games in his last season a Bolt, but was bought out using a compliance buyout in June of 2013. He had seven seasons left with a $7.7 million cap hit.
Less than one week after the buyout was official, Lecavalier signed a five-year $22.5 million dollar deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers were having a busy summer, also signing defenseman Mark Streit and goalie Ray Emery. They bought out goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Danny Briere.
His tenure in Philly was tumultuous to say the least, often butting heads with Craig Berube, who replaced Peter Laviolette just three games into the season. He still managed to score 20 goals and 37 points through 69 games. The Flyers made the playoffs, but lost in seven games to the Rangers. Lecavalier scored one goal and two points in seven games.
The following season, Lecavalier often found himself scratched as his offensive ability did not outweigh his slow skating and lack of defensive responsibility. He still managed to play in 57 games, but with only eight goals and 20 points. The Flyers missed the playoffs by 14 points, and the writing was on the wall as new GM Ron Hextall was going to make some changes.
Lecavalier’s last NHL season was 2015-16, which he split between two NHL teams. He started the season with the Flyers, but on January 6, 2016, he was traded along with Luke Schenn to the LA Kings for Jordan Weal and a third round pick with the stipulation that he would retire at season’s end. Lecavalier found consistent ice time in LA over the last 42 games of the season, but only scored 10 goals and added seven assists. He played in all five of the Kings playoff games before officially announcing his retirement on June 21, 2016.
On February 10, 2018 the Tampa Bay Lightning retired his number 4. He played 1034 games as a Bolt with 383 goals, 491 assists, and 874 points, which is good enough for first, second, and second respectively in Lightning history. For his career, he finished with 1212 games played, 421 goals, and 949 points.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com