December 30, 2009 :: 3:11pm ET
Tampa's success rides on Lecavalier's shoulders
By David Pagnotta,

[TORONTO, ON] -- "You're only as good as your best player." This phrase has been muttered in sport for a very long time.

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 the NHL.

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.

Vincent LecavalierThis 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 best performer.

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 is.

"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.

David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period Magazine and covers the NHL for He is also a contributing writer for and MSNBC.

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