Vinny Lecavalier hoists the Stanley Cup after the Bolts' 2-1 victory against the Flames in Game 7 of the finals on June 7, 2004. The team's history might be different without Lecavalier's contributions. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO
TAMPA - As much hockey sense as it made, business sense, as much as his oversized contract was a rock around his team's neck, the elephant in the rink ... as inevitable it was in the name of Moving On, it was a stunning day in Lightning history. Vinny Lecavalier is gone. Over the years, Vinny trade rumors piled up like goals, though not quite, since Vinny scored 407 if you include the playoffs. Today we do. We count everything, on and off the ice. It's quite the legacy. To top it off, you never could help but like the guy. That's how Vincent Lecavalier became Vinny - the first name would do.
Once, there was a deal to send him to Vancouver for goaltender Roberto Luongo, but it fell through. When compliance buyouts came with the new NHL collective bargaining agreement, Vinny speculation was rampant. It was still startling when it actually happened - that, 15 years to the day after he was selected first overall by Tampa Bay in the 1998 draft, the Lightning team captain, for years the face of the franchise, was told he didn't have a job here anymore by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, Vinny's hockey hero growing up. One of the weird moments in Tampa sports history will be when Vinny hits the ice in another sweater. There are millions of reasons why what happened Thursday happened, namely the dollars in Vinny's salary, far too many for his current game, a far cry from when he was going to be the very best. Some nights he was, many nights he wasn't, and we often held that against him. But he was pretty darn good. Vinny and the Ligthning made a lot of history together. Come to think of it, I'm not sure there would be much Lightning history without Vinny. I'm not sure this franchise would have lasted here if Vinny hadn't been the young star, marked for greatness. He didn't have to be Michael Jordan, like that cuckoo owner dreamed. Just Vinny. He saved the day. A lot of hockey fans around here grew up with Vinny, 14 seasons of him, as many seasons as Derrick Brooks spent with the Bucs. Vinny grew up, too, right in front of us, and lifted the Stanley Cup nine Junes ago. Like Brooks and Warren Sapp with the the Bucs, Vinny helped turn the Lightning from a punch line to a world champion. Then there was his foundation, his charitable work, widespread and meaningful, backed by walk as well as talk, by Vinny dollars. There are so many Vinny moments. There's him looking like he was 12 years old the day he was drafted. There was Vinny and coach John Tortorella, back and forth, forth and back. There was Vinny's 50th goal in a season, the first Bolt to do that. There was Vinny during the 2004 Cup run: back home in Montreal, late magic, scoring with a shot between his legs to force overtime. There was Vinny's brawl with Calgary's Jarome Iginla in the Cup finals, then Vinny lifting the Cup the night the Bolts became kings of the hockey world. Look, no one should feel sorry for Vinny. I checked. He's getting $32.67 million in the buyout, and you're not getting one dime. Vinny will get another job, a good one, with a saner contract. The one that was just bought out wasn't Vinny's fault. Blame it on those goober owners, those cowboys. And face it: The Lightning wouldn't be doing this if the NHL business model hadn't changed, and for that matter, if Vinny's game was at the same level as the ones belonging to friend and teammate Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. Vinny had become a $4 million player trapped in a $10 million contract. He was so talented we always wanted him to be more talented, the best. There was always something to pick on when it came to Vinny. Some questioned his drive. Some used to say: If only you could stick Marty's heart in Vinny's body, you'd have the ultimate hockey player. It was unfair. Vinny was pretty darn good when he was at his best. And his heart, the part of it that mattered most, was beyond question. This good, decent man counted for something in this community. There is a Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorder Center at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. No matter how famous he became, Vinny remained the Quebec firefighter's son. After all, Tampa Bay was his home. And it always will be when we see that banner in the Forum rafters. Or when sick children maybe leave that cancer center not quite as sick as they were going in. All the hockey and business sense in the world won't change that. It's like Vinny's name on that Stanley Cup. He's there - and here - for good.