December 30, 2009 :: 3:11pm ET
Tampa's success rides on
By David Pagnotta,
[TORONTO, ON] -- "You're only as good as
your best player." This phrase has been muttered in sport for a very
Often, it rings true. And in the case of
the Tampa Bay Lightning, it's a bang-on theory.
Vincent Lecavalier is supposed to be
Tampa's best player. He's supposed to be one of the biggest stars in
Since jumping into the league at the
start of the 1998-99 season, Lecavalier didn't truly bust out of his
offensive shell until the 2006-07 campaign, when he notched a
career-high 108 points. He followed up that performance with a
92-point season, but drifted back into less than a point-per-game
status last year.
Granted, he played a significant role
during 2003-04 when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, but his numbers
have already been in question.
season, he got off to a slow start, scoring just once in October, and
the results showed in the standings.
Entering this season with a new contract
($11-years, $85 million) and a new linemate in Alex Tanguay,
expectations were high. The Lightning believed it had the right pieces
in place to compete for a playoff spot this season, but many pundits
picked them to finish near the bottom of the pack.
I'm one of the few to have selected the
Lightning to finish the regular-season with a playoff spot, albeit the
eighth and final seed in the East.
To date, my prediction isn't looking too
good, though the Bolts are currently 10th in the East, one point back
of a playoff position. They've remained in the hunt thanks in large
part to the excellent performance of their first line, which features
Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone, but the team --for
the most part-- has struggled in the first half of the season.
Lecavalier was expected to return to 90+
point form right off the bat. With his future somewhat secure (he was
almost traded to Montreal in the summer, only to see things implode
after a member of the club's ownership group nixed the deal), I
figured he would be all set to reclaim his stance as one of the
league's most dominant forwards. In fact, a number of my colleagues
have written that his slow start could force the team into moving him.
Well, Vinny might have finally woken up
from his slumber, and the timing couldn't be better.
Lecavalier, 29, has picked up 11 points
in his last seven games, and the Bolts have won four of their last
five. Tanguay has also benefited from Lecavalier's top tier play of
late, picking up five points in as many games.
"I feel better when I have the puck and
the play-making aspect is going pretty well. I think we are really
clicking as a line and I think that really helps everybody,"
Lecavalier told the
Tampa Tribune. "But I know that goal
scoring is still an area I want to get my confidence higher, but I
think that will come."
If Lecavalier --and the Lightning--
wants to make the playoffs this season, he's going to have to be their
There is a significant difference in how
well the team has performed this season when Lecavalier picks up at
least one point in a game.
The Lightning is 13-7-5 when Vinny gets
on the scoreboard, and an ugly 2-8-4 when he's pointless.
It doesn't take a genius to conclude how
much Lecavalier means to the Lightning organization. He's their
captain and it shows on and off the ice. He plays a major role in
local community charities, and despite various reports suggesting a
trade might be best for his career, Lecavalier is fine just where he
"I know I'm happy," he said. "I know we
have a great chance at making the playoffs and I think we should make
the playoffs. I want to be a part of it. I don't really care what
other people say."
I'm not about to change my prediction
just yet. I still think the Lightning can squeeze its way into
post-season play. But without Lecavalier playing at 100%, they'll be
golfing by mid-April.
is the Editor-in-Chief of
The Fourth Period Magazine and covers the
NHL for TheFourthPeriod.com. He is also a
contributing writer for NBCSports.com and MSNBC.