When one considers the magnitude of 383 goals, 491 assists and 874 points in 1,037 games played by the age of 32, the phrase ‘Potential Hall-of-Famer’ is not out of the question.
That is where Vincent Lecavalier found himself after the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season in which he posted 32 points in 39 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning, an organization he had spent his entire 14-year career with. The game was changing (again) and teams needed to shed salary to operate under the league’s new salary cap figures.
The addition of two compliance buyouts per team was added to aid in such and Tampa Bay cut their captain loose, thus making him an attractive, unrestricted free agent.
Enter the Philadelphia Flyers. Scratch that. Enter Peter Laviolette.
The Flyers head coach was part of a contingent of executives that traveled to meet with Lecavalier around the time of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Through the course of discussions and negotiations, Lecavalier became sold on coming to Philadelphia and playing in Laviolette’s attacking-based offensive system with up and coming superstar Claude Giroux.
The union proved to be short-lived as the Flyers canned their head coach after an 0-3 start to the 2013-14 season and replaced him with assistant coach Craig Berube. Berube was in favor of a defensive-first system and at the time, it seemed to help the Flyers break out of their early season funk. It did not, however, benefit the veteran Lecavalier.
Berube further shuffled things around by playing Lecavalier on the wing, a position he did not look comfortable at and later admitted he was not comfortable playing. Playing through various injuries and an eventual demotion to the team’s fourth line, Lecavalier managed to finish the season with 20 goals and 37 points in 69 games. He was a nightmare defensively and did not seem to mesh well with the various line combinations used. As the Flyers prepared to enter the offseason after their first round loss to the New York Rangers, both Berube and Lecavalier noted that improvement was needed and expected.
Enter Ron Hextall.
The new Flyers General Manager could see how previous moves made by Paul Holmgren were hurting the club’s future and tried to rectify it by making some personnel moves in the summer. One attempt was to move Lecavalier and his $4.5 million cap hit to a team that was better equipped to utilize his services.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 12, 2015
The unattractive cap number in addition to the Flyers lack of interest in salary retention led to Lecavalier remaining a Flyer as the 2014-15 was set to start. Coming into camp in better shape, Lecavalier was poised to regain his previous form and excel under Berube’s system.
Playing his natural center ice position, he began the season playing with potent winger Wayne Simmonds. As the season progressed, Lecavalier did not. He suddenly found himself playing with different linemates on different lines and became a repeat customer of Berube’s revolving list of healthy scratches. Yes, a $4.5 million healthy scratch.
To date, Lecavalier’s biggest success this season has come on the fourth line with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde, a trio that has played together at even strength over 40% of the time. Still, Lecavalier is one of the first forwards to end up in the press box as Berube notes the he does not look comfortable on the ice. In addition, Berube is not comfortable having him out there. In 51 games played, Vinny has mustered only seven goals and 18 points and will find himself contemplating his future yet again once the Flyers dreaded season comes to an end.
The Flyers have eight games remaining this season and while not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, their chances of sneaking in are slim to none. In fact, they are in better position to land a top 10 draft pick or even the top pick via the draft lottery.
With that in mind, what should be done with Lecavalier? He has been a healthy scratch in favor of energy guy Zac Rinaldo and rookie Nick Cousins. Some would surmise that he should remain in dress clothes for the duration of the season. I, on the other hand, think he should play in each of the last eight games for a few reasons.
REASON NUMBER ONE: SHOWCASE
Much like the team did with Braydon Coburn, they need to put players on display if they want other teams to notice. Now, I am not suggesting that the team can get multiple draft picks and a NHL-ready player in return but as teams see it currently, Lecavalier is a 34-year-old, injury prone player who has been relegated to minimal minutes and trips to the press box while struggling in all phases of play. If the Flyers want to move Lecavalier in the summer or fall, they need to show teams that he still has value and that said value is worth absorbing his unfriendly cap hit. The Flyers literally have nothing to lose here.
One question would be where should he play in these final eight games. Looking at some advanced analytical statistics from the previous few campaigns, we see the following:
Offensively, Lecavalier has the potential to produce on a second-line level while utilizing third-line minutes. He is playing less than 13 minutes per game and his shooting percentage of 7.3% is a career low as he has managed less than 100 shots on goal.
The first line is out of the question. Giroux is a lock in the middle and Lecavalier NEEDS to play as a center, not a winger. Sean Couturier has another center ice position locked up and has been playing on a second line with Braydon Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, a line I happen to like.
I also like Bellemare centering VandeVelde on the fourth line. That leaves the third line to play around with and accordingly, I would make the following moves:
- Send prospect Nick Cousins back to Lehigh Valley where he was leading the Phantoms in scoring
- Cousins is proving to be a player and can continue to benefit from playing heavy minutes in the AHL. He’ll remain one of a handful of players that will get an extended look come September.
- Recall JasonAkeson from Lehigh Valley.
- Akeson began the season with the Flyers but his lack of playing a full 200 feet found him in Berube’s doghouse and subsequently back in the minors. He remains one of the Flyers top RW prospects and can fit nicely into the fourth line as he played well early on with Bellemare.
- ScratchZac Rinaldo
- Rinaldo remains an energy guy that is fairly good defensively but remains a liability when on the ice, mainly due to reputation. At the very least, he can split time with Akeson down the stretch based on match-ups.
The above scenario opens the door for Lecavalier to center a line with Ryan White on the left and Matt Read on the right, a combination which could work out pretty well over the final games of the season. White has been one of the Flyers biggest surprises in the second half and is one of the teams best forecheckers.
His tenacity in the offensive zone is a center’s dream and Lecavalier could certainly benefit. Add in Read who has struggled but is capable of finding twine himself and you have the fixings of a line that could surprise. Lecavalier could also take Schenn’s place on the top PP unit and position himself up high with Wayne Simmonds. For a team that has struggled 5v5, he could get a fair share of looks on the man-advantage. (Of note, Lecavalier has been on the PP team already; I’m merely suggesting he stays there and plays with the first unit)
REASON NUMBER TWO: RESPECT
Lecavalier now has 410 goals and almost 930 points in his career when you factor in his two season in Philadelphia. At 34 years of age, he could POTENTIALLY near the 500 goal/1,000 point threshold. There is no doubt in my mind that his game is naturally on the decline. My dissatisfaction is routed in the fact that Berube (and the Flyers) are helping to accelerate the slope. Lecavalier’s brilliant career is being derailed by a coach who has lost faith in him and quite honestly, most of the Flyers faithful has lost faith in the coach. I am in complete agreement that Lecavalier is not a fit for this team.
I didn’t think he was a fit in the summer of 2013 when he was initially signed. I do, however, think that he has hockey left in him when utilized to the best of his ability. As an observer, I can see the tension that exists in the locker room between certain players and the coach. Steve Mason is one who comes to mind. He too has been mismanaged this season and Berube is the main culprit. For an ‘old school’ guy, he doesn’t seem to follow an old-school behavior. Take the Mike Richards/Kings saga for example. In the old school, he never would have been banished to the minor leagues. Same thing with Lecavalier. A player with that track record would never end up in the press box as frequently as he has. The coach needs to get the best out his players by playing to their strengths.
The Flyers need to do what is right here by either giving Lecavalier the chance to succeed (natural position/different scheme) OR by moving him to a team that may be willing to take him on with less of a return and/or salary retention. The money hurts more when it is being burned sitting atop of the arena each night. Perhaps the Flyers will have a new coach next season that can figure out how to get what’s left from Lecavalier. On the flip side, perhaps they will be able to move him in a transaction that is mutually beneficial (he does have a NTC). I hope the latter is true as I feel that will be what is best for all parties involved.
We don’t know how this will play out. What we do know, is that Vincent Lecavalier is a class act and a great player that deserves to finish his career on his own terms which is on the ice, not in the cheap seats.
What are your thoughts on Lecavalier’s situation in Philadelphia? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter @healedbyhockey