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Dudley: Troubles deep for Vinny

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 7, 2002

Former Lightning general manager Rick Dudley said Vinny Lecavalier might not ever flourish with Tampa Bay, and he still would consider trading the 21-year-old center.

"You have a player who is having problems with the team, and who knows whether that's ever going to work out," Dudley said. "I know it's a difficult thing for him."

Dudley took offers for Lecavalier in November and December after Lecavalier asked for a trade. He would have pulled the trigger had team president Ron Campbell not put an end to it.

The issue was so contentious, Dudley resigned under pressure.

"I would still consider trading Vinny simply because his asset level is so high," Dudley said. "It's along the lines of (Eric) Lindros. What I found out was that the trades were monumental. They weren't just big trades. They were monumental. They were deals that I believe would have put the team in the playoffs for sure."

Tampa Bay will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight season and the ninth time in its 10 seasons.

Dudley said there were two main deals on the table. He declined to name the teams or players involved but said one trade would have brought three established players, including an All-Star defenseman; the other an All-Star defenseman, a 30-goal scorer and two first-round draft picks.

"In all of the deals we talked about, the oldest player was 27," Dudley said. "You start to add it up and you say, "Holy cripes.'

"I knew I would take heat if I ever traded Vinny, but I never made a trade while I was general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning based on what people would think. I'm trying to make the team better and that's the only focus you have as general manager."

Said Campbell: "We, as an organization, do not want to comment on Rick's evaluation of our players. I would say that we are happy with the progress of the Lightning and, once again, I am willing to re-emphasize that we expect Vinny to be a key contributor to our growth and success as a franchise."

That may hinge on his relationship with coach John Tortorella with whom, it is no secret, Lecavalier has had issues.

Lecavalier was made to sit the first two games of the season after ending his contract holdout. His captaincy was taken away. And Lecavalier reacted badly to being chewed out in front of his teammates, most notably in the Ice Palace locker room during an Oct. 23 game against the Capitals.

And while Tortorella said Saturday, "He's playing hard the last little while. ... He's really trying. I think he's grown quite a bit," Lecavalier's generally poor play did not earn him many points with his coach. His 16 goals and 16 assists are his worst totals since his rookie season.

"How long does the team have to wait while it figures out that John is going no place and Vinny's going no place? Three or four years until, all of a sudden, Vinny says he's going to have fun playing again?" Dudley said. "He's not having fun playing right now. He was a very troubled young man when I was there, and I had a very strong inkling that it wasn't going to change any time soon."

Neither Tortorella nor Lecavalier would talk about their relationship. But Tortorella acknowledged his in-your-face style.

"When you put demands on players you end up challenging them," he said. "It's not confrontation. It's coaching."

Dudley acknowledged he is not as close to the situation as he was. Still, he said, "People think it's going to be rosy, but I don't know. I know how deep it runs and it's not an easy one to get over."

Things could change, Dudley said, but "after 30 years of being in the sport and seeing every kind of situation, there are some you believe can be rectified and some you believe will be very difficult. This one I believe is on the extreme end of very difficult to the point where it is unlikely.

"As long as Vinny has the feelings he has currently, he will not play at the level people in Tampa hope he will play at."

MVP: The big question this season: Should a player from a nonplayoff team be awarded the Hart Trophy?

There are many candidates who could be playing golf by April 17, the start of the conference quarterfinals. The highest profile is that of Calgary's Jarome Iginla, who leads the league in goals and points.

There also is Montreal's Jose Theodore, Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund, and Phoenix's Sean Burke. Can any of those beat Colorado's Patrick Roy, Toronto's Mats Sundin or Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson?

Remember, the honor is supposed to be awarded to the player "most valuable to his team." Under that parameter, a good case could be made for Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.

According to the Globe and Mail in Toronto, the only players not on playoff teams to win MVP in the past 50 years are Chicago's Al Rollins in 1954, New York's Andy Bathgate in 1959 and Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux in 1988.

Bathgate told the Globe and Mail he would vote for Iginla.

"He's playing as if the Stanley Cup is on the line," Bathgate said. "They're talking about Roy and (Curtis) Joseph. But Roy's got some fantastic hockey players with him. If he has a bad night these guys can pick it up and cover for him. (Iginla), if he has a bad night, everyone in the house knows it."

QUOTE: "I have to go through a couple of pairs of shorts each game, but other than that, it's great." -- Coyotes coach Bobby Francis on the tight playoff race in the West.

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