EL SEGUNDO, CA — Since he arrived in Southern California, veteran center Vincent Lecavalier has been a huge, pleasant surprise for the Los Angeles Kings.
Ending the regular season with ten goals and seven assists for 17 points, with a +1 plus/minus rating and a 51.0 percent face-off winning percentage in 42 games with the Kings, Lecavalier gave the Kings a huge upgrade to their third line center position.
Lecavalier pointed to the fact that he was traded in January, not at the trade deadline, as a factor in his play.
“Everything was new, but that was the good thing about being traded in January, not at the deadline,” he noted. “You get to jell with the team, and [acclimate yourself] with the team, the organization, the city.”
“Playing in different situations [helped him] get some confidence back,” he added. “I played only five or six games—six minutes a night with [the Philadelphia Flyers]. I hadn’t played in a long time, so for me to [come] here and play right away, I think it was good.  games later, I’m really excited about the role. We want to win, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
“In Philly, I was working really hard. I was hoping for a chance to play there, or—I wanted to be ready, so I did everything I could [to stay in shape]. After that, it was just getting comfortable here, with the games, the system and everything, but I think it went pretty good. It has worked out, for sure. From not playing, to playing important minutes, on special teams, sometimes on the penalty-kill. I think [head coach] Darryl [Sutter] gives everyone a role, and everyone is important. That’s why we’re successful.”
Everyone having a role accelerated Lecavalier’s adjustment to his new team.
“It’s been good,” said Lecavalier. “I’m getting [time] on the power play—a little bit. But first, second, third, fourth line—the lines are rolling. Darryl plays everybody, and everybody plays the same way. It’s not like there’s a specific role. They still want us to, [on] the third and fourth lines, to produce and not get scored on, just like every other line.”
“I remember my first year with Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay,” added Lecavalier. “We went to the conference finals, and it was the same thing. Everybody had a role and felt important on the team. This is that type of team. That’s how we do it. Everybody is important, everybody feels important. Everybody’s got an important role to [play].”
Forward and team captain Dustin Brown indicated that Lecavalier has been a definite upgrade down the middle.
“From purely a hockey standpoint, he’s really taken pressure off [the other centers],” he said. “Until we got him, we had our top two centers, and then we were rotating guys through the third and fourth lines. But once we got Vinny, and he got acclimated, it was pretty clear that he was going to fill that [third line center] spot, and calm things down for us. It allows us to balance our lines little bit better and we have those three, strong centers now.”
No one can say that Lecavalier has been lighting up the league since joining the Kings. Nevertheless, he has provided much more than anyone believed he would, except for Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi.
“Vinny’s been really good, as far as filling that [third line center] hole,” said Lombardi. “Vinny did everything we expected, in terms of fitting in.”
“It doesn’t surprise me,” added Lombardi. “I saw too much of him when they beat us in the [2004 Eastern Conference Final] in Philadelphia. I’ve known and watched him since he was 17 or 18. There are things he does…he’s a better player—I kid him all the time. The way he protects the puck, his length—he didn’t even do that in junior. He was kind of a stick handler. He’s got an enormous presence and he’s a really good guy. But I was fortunate enough to pretty much know what I was getting in him. It didn’t surprise me that he was going to accept the role. I didn’t really doubt it at all.”
Accepting the role and fitting in for Lecavalier is about much more than what happens on the ice. Indeed, it’s also about providing veteran leadership, having been captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning previously. But he knew that he couldn’t just walk into the Kings dressing room acting as if he was the top dog.
Lecavalier’s approach earned him even more praise from Lombardi.
“If you’re a smart guy, I don’t care if you’re going into a classroom for the first time, it doesn’t have to be a locker room,” Lombardi explained. “If you’re going to fit in, you don’t come in with a megaphone. There’s always that period of, ‘show those guys respect. They’ve won two [Stanley Cup Championships], too.’”
“The guy was an MVP of this league, and everything else,” Lombardi elaborated. “He could’ve easily gone in there and start [talking as if he already was a leader]. But we had to push him. ‘Don’t wait, Vinny. You’ve already got respect. Go ahead. Say what you’ve got to say, and do what you’ve got to do.’ That’s the right way to do it.”
Brown indicated that Lecavalier’s leadership and experience has been an asset in the dressing room.
“He’s another guy to lean on,” he noted. “We’ve got a team that’s been through a lot together. To add a couple of new guys who’ve had that experience—the more of those guys we can get in the room, the easier it is.”
As for Lecavalier, who longed for one last shot at a second Stanley Cup Championship, he now has that chance.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, but they’ve given me the opportunity,” said Lecavalier. “Now I’ve got to take it. This isn’t the regular season. It’s playoffs. I’ve got to do my best. For us to win, everyone needs to be at their top level, starting from the number one guy to the goalies.”
“It’s exciting to be a part of the playoffs again. This is the last time I’ll be in the playoffs, so I want us to do well, for sure.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center Vincent Lecavalier. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings.
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