EL SEGUNDO, CA — Several Los Angeles Kings players spoke with the local media on April 24, just a couple of days after they were bounced from the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the San Jose Sharks in five games.
Among those who spoke to the media was one player who was leaving the Kings and another who wants to stick around.
As he has said since his arrival in Los Angeles back in January, veteran center Vincent Lecavalier confirmed once again that he would retire now that the Kings’ season is over.
“It’s definitely still the plan,” he insisted. “I haven’t really thought about it the last couple of days. People are texting me, but I haven’t really thought about it. Yeah, it’s the same plan as when I first got here a few months ago.”
Lecavalier was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers as an upgrade to the Kings’ third line center position with the hopes that he would help put the Kings over the hump in the post-season, but the latter didn’t come close to materializing.
“That last shift [of Game 5 on April 22], I was out there the last 22 seconds,” said Lecavalier. “Definitely a weird feeling. Anytime you lose like that it’s tough. It was a tough series. I still think it could’ve gone either way, but there’s got to be a winner, so you’ve got to give them credit for that.”
Lecavalier noted that some of the Sharks players wished him well during the handshake line following Game 5.
“A few guys were really nice about it,” he said. “A couple of guys said, ‘keep playing.’ It was a great. Some guys said they watched my career—the younger guys over there.”
Although the second Stanley Cup Championship he was working towards did not materialize, Lecavalier once again talked about being given a chance to play with the Kings when it looked like he would never play meaningful minutes again with the Flyers.
“Honestly, to be able to get a chance to play—I know I’ve said it over and over, but I think back to November,” he explained. “I was talking to [Kings President/Business Operations and fellow Quebec native] Luc [Robitaille]. ‘Hey, I think I’m going to be stuck here. I’m not playing.’”
“Getting a chance to play on this team, and obviously, we didn’t go where we wanted to go at the end of it, but to get a chance to play, to have fun, and to learn, it was just a great time,” he added. “I always had that confidence, deep down, that I could still do well. It was great. This is a great team, and I know they’re going to win again, just by the way they act, the leadership group, and the talent they have.”
“I’ve had a lot of good moments. One of the best was, obviously, winning the Cup [with the Tampa Bay Lightning]. But to get a second chance at playing when you think you might not play again was great. This was just a really good experience for me, the last three or four months.”
Lecavalier indicated that he has not given any serious thought to life after hockey yet. But he does plan to move back to Tampa, Florida, where he will help build local and youth hockey.
“We’ve always planned to go to Tampa,” he noted. “I spent 14 years there. I mean, Montreal is home, but Tampa feels like home, as well. I assume we’ll go back there.”
“I’m not sure what I want to do right now,” he added. “There’s probably ten guys from when we won the Cup who are there now, and I think they’re growing the game. I think there’s ten or eleven guys who played there, and they’re growing youth hockey. I think that’s important. I see it here, and I asked people, ‘wow! Has this always been like this? This is unreal. My son’s been playing and it’s a great program.”
“They said [it’s grown] the last four or five years, which makes sense. The winning brings—hockey gets bigger. The Kings [are] involved. That’s what hockey teams have to do to grow the game. You have to have good programs for the kids to get better, and they do a great job here. I’m going to try to help in Tampa, for sure.”
The long-term plan for Lecavalier’s family is to return to Tampa, but they’ll remain in Southern California for the time being.
“I’ll stay here for awhile,” he noted. “My oldest is still in school, so I’ll stay in California, with the family. It’s a great area to live in.”
Meanwhile, as Lecavalier leaves the Kings and the National Hockey League over the summer, veteran left wing Milan Lucic, who will become eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1, has his sights set on a contract extension that would keep him in a Kings jersey for the foreseeable future.
“[The season] didn’t finish the way we were hoping,” he said. “But when you look at the season as a whole, for myself, I really enjoyed it—the move to L.A., living here, being a part of this organization, the way the management, the coaches, and the training staff treat the players, it’s definitely first class. I enjoyed being the new guy on the block, and getting to play with brand new teammates, stuff like that. It’s a great, special group to be a part of, and I really enjoyed for the season.”
Lucic said that contract talks were in progress.
“There had been some talks, before the playoffs started,” said Lucic. “There’s two months until July 1, so hopefully, something can get done here so I can remain a King moving forward into the future. That’s something I’ve expressed that I really want to happen. I really enjoy being an LA King and everything that has to offer. Hopefully, it can get done here in the near future.”
“I think [what he’s asking for and what the Kings are offering are] in the same area code,” added Lucic. “There’s just a little bit more work to do to bridge the gap here. Like I said, it’s something I definitely want, moving forward. It’s definitely important, and I think it’s something they want, too.”
Lucic is also rather anxious to get a deal done.
“The sooner, the better,” he emphasized. “To be honest, I really don’t have much interest in hitting the open market and seeing what’s out there because, in my mind, this is where I want to be. Why flirt with something [else] when you know what you want? That’s the case for me, moving forward.”
The needs of his family are another reason Lucic wants to re-sign with the Kings.
“It’s definitely not just about me, anymore,” he noted. “As important as it is [for] my decision [to be about] where I want to be, and being happy, being in a place that’s a great spot for [his children] to grow up and go to school, and stuff like that, is really, really important, as well, [and this area] has so much to offer, as far as that goes. It’s one of the best places to raise children, the South Bay area. That plays into a big part of why I want to remain here.”
Lucic then shared his thoughts about his team’s very early exit from the playoffs.
“If you look at the season, it’s one of the best seasons this team has had in a lot of years,” Lucic observed. “We played well during the season, being the first team in the West to clinch a playoff spot. It’s disappointing to have such a great season like that, but you don’t play well down the stretch, and that carries into the playoffs.”
“Even though that last game was 6-3, every game before that was a one-goal game,” added Lucic. “We were in it. We had our opportunities to win Games 1 and 2, Game 4, and even Game 5. But they were able to create that bounce, and make it count.”
Lucic indicated that the sour feelings from their disappointing playoff performance will linger for a bit, but not for long.
“You’re definitely upset about it for that first week,” he said. “But eventually, you have to move on and start looking forward to next season. You try to forget about it as best you can.”
“For the first week, it’s kind of a tough pill to swallow,” he added. “You go over it [in] your mind—what happened, what you could’ve done, and all that type of stuff. Unfortunately, the way I look at it, and I said it after the game, they wanted it more than we did. They played with more desperation and hunger. They played like a team that had something to prove, and that carried them to winning the series.”
When asked if he believed the Kings could be a contender next season, Lucic said, “Yeah, 100 percent.”
“I definitely think this team is capable of doing more damage in the playoffs [next season],” he added. “I still think it’s a championship caliber team, and it’s a team that I definitely want to be a part of moving forward.”
“It’s a team with a lot more to give. Hopefully, being bounced out this early in the playoffs gives us the right type of motivation heading into the summer, in our training, and into the next season. If you look [at it] right now, there’s a lot of time until then. [There is] a lot of time to get yourself healthy, and in the best shape as you possibly can, so like I said, there’s a lot to be motivated about heading into next season.”
Lucic said that he will spend the off-season in Southern California, but he added that he has no elaborate vacation plans.
“Nothing crazy,” he said. “Just hang out here over the summer. There’s no reason to go on a beach vacation when it’s a couple of blocks down the road.”
“I’m sure I’ll be hitting Disneyland, and all that stuff, catch the [Los Angeles] Clippers here. Hopefully, they can have some kind of run. Go to a [Los Angeles] Dodgers game. We’ll see what teams come in town. It’s fun to do that with the kids. We did that at Fenway Park [in Boston]. We used to take the kids to Fenway all the time, and Dodger Stadium is another cool stadium to take the kids to, so I’m looking to enjoy all of what L.A. has to offer.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center Vincent Lecavalier (left) and left wing Milan Lucic (right). Photos: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography/
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