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Lecavalier, team deny trade rumors

But they will admit there was tension between the center and coach John Tortorella.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 1, 2001


TORONTO -- Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier said Wednesday he has not demanded a trade, and Lecavalier's agent Kent Hughes said he has not asked Tampa Bay to move his client.

Hughes and Lightning general manager Rick Dudley also denied reports a "trial period" was established to see if Lecavalier can co-exist with coach John Tortorella. All involved admitted Lecavalier and Tortorella had heated exchanges on the bench and in the Ice Palace locker room during Tampa Bay's tie with the Capitals on Oct. 23.

But Lecavalier said, "It's over. It was over with that night. ... There was an issue on the bench. But with people, in the heat of the moment, it happens. It was behind us after the game."

Of the reported trade demand, he said, "It never happened."

Asked if he wants to play for Tampa Bay, he said, "Of course."

Lecavalier's future with the Lightning became an issue Tuesday night when the Web site for TSN, Canada's equivalent of ESPN, reported the former No. 1 draft pick demanded a trade and that the team set up a trial period to see if he and Tortorella could smooth over their differences.

The story said that happened during an Oct. 24 meeting between Lecavalier and management. Lecavalier said there was no meeting.

Lecavalier is dealing with some issues and with a focused, demanding coach who doesn't sugarcoat, and that has created some tension.

Projected as a superstar, Lecavalier is coming off a disappointing and injury-filled season, is without a goal in his first nine games and misfired on a penalty shot in Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Maple Leafs.

Tortorella also is pushing him, like no coach has pushed before, to be a more complete player.

"We push our players, all our players," Tortorella said. "Again, we get back to this situation where we're talking about one individual. We're going to coach the way we've been coaching and that includes everybody. It's a team concept."

Said Hughes: "I think what you're seeing started last season, and that's that tough-love situation, and that's an ongoing thing."

Tortorella benched Lecavalier last season in the third period of a game against the Sabres, whom the Lightning face Friday at HSBC Arena. And Lecavalier's playing time has dropped from last season's average of 19:56 to 16:46.

He also lost the captaincy, though Lecavalier reiterated that "I understand they're trying to take pressure away from me."

Of his blowup with Tortorella, he said, "It's nothing about contracts or last year. It's just something that happened during the game."

So where do things stand?

Dudley and Hughes spoke on the phone the day after the Capitals game to make sure the lines of communication stayed open. Dudley said Hughes did voice concerns about Lecavalier's playing time.

It has grown since because, despite his drought, Lecavalier has played well, especially against the Maple Leafs. He had a team-high five shots in 18:07 Tuesday. "I'm really mad because the puck doesn't go in, but I'm not down because it's coming," he said.

"John is trying to make this kid the best he can be," Dudley said. "Sometimes when you're a player of that caliber and ability, the demands go up. I think the only thing John is doing is challenging Vinny to play because he knows the level he can get to. I don't think John would hesitate to have a heated exchange with anybody if he thought it was warranted."

Defenseman Jassen Cullimore said that trait is not specific to Tortorella.

"It happens more than it gets told," Cullimore said. "The media just got hold of this one. Somebody hears it and rumors get started and that's what happened here. Vinny wants to be here in Tampa Bay."

"This really got blown out of proportion," Lecavalier said. "In a player-coach relationship, things happen. We had an issue. We took care of it and it is behind us."

OLVESTAD INJURED: Right wing Jimmie Olvestad will be out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right shoulder sustained against the Maple Leafs. That should create an opening for rookie Nikita Alexeev, who has been scratched in seven of 11 games.

ALL-STAR VOTING: The Lightning has three players on the ballot for the Feb. 2 All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Lecavalier for the North American team, and left wing Fredrik Modin and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin for the World team. Voting is at nhl.com and from Nov. 9-Dec. 31 at NHL arenas.

ODDS AND ENDS: Defenseman Grant Ledyard was excused from practice to deal with a family matter. ... Tortorella said Cullimore (sprained left ankle) is day-to-day.

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