Colorado tried to deal for Tampa Bay's top pick in '98. The Lightning didn't budge. Three of the four Avs '98 first-rounders visit tonight.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2000
TAMPA -- If the Avalanche had had its way, Vinny Lecavalier would be wearing a Colorado uniform.
Because of a series of trades, the Avalanche had four first-round picks in the 1998 draft. Phil Esposito, the Lightning's general manager at the time, said Colorado tried to package two choices for Tampa Bay's No. 1 pick and the chance to pick Lecavalier.
Esposito said the Avalanche did not include center Joe Sakic as part of the deal, as was rumored. Even if it had, he said, there was no way he was giving up a chance to pick Lecavalier, the top-rated prospect.
"I was saying to them, "Look, you have to blow my socks off,' " Esposito said Thursday, recalling his conversation with Colorado general manager Pierre Lacroix. "I remember saying to one of our scouts, if they want to give us (Peter) Forsberg and Sakic ... and then they would have to give us money to pay them down the road because we couldn't afford to pay them anyway."
Said Colorado coach Bob Hartley: "When you get a chance to put your hands on a solid player like (Lecavalier) -- and especially in this market, where you need to hang a name out to sell tickets -- it was easy to understand (the Lightning's) needs. And with the bunch of draft picks we had, it was easy to understand trying to make a package deal."
In the end, things worked out for both teams. The Lightning got Lecavalier, now tabbed as one of the league's next superstars and Tampa Bay's top scorer.
"I'm happy to be here," he said.
The Avalanche got left wing Alex Tanguay with the 12th pick, defenseman Martin Skoula 17th, defenseman Robyn Regehr 19th and right wing Scott Parker 20th.
Tanguay is third on the Avalanche in scoring with 27 points. Skoula averages 20 minutes, 13 seconds, third among Colorado defensemen.
Parker leads Colorado with 61 penalty minutes. Regehr was traded to the Flames in February 1999 as part of a package for Theo Fleury.
Lecavalier said he heard the trade rumors as the draft approached.
"I couldn't do anything about it," he said. "I didn't worry about it. I was just waiting."
As for tonight's game against Colorado at the Ice Palace, Lecavalier said it has no greater significance.
"I'm just playing to win a game," he said.
Tanguay agreed there is no personal competition. But Skoula said, "You always want to show you can beat the guy that is the same age as you. But we still want to win as a team."
Skoula, who played in the Ontario Hockey League, did not face Lecavalier in juniors but said his reputation was well-established.
"Everybody was talking about him as the next offensive impact player," Skoula said. "He's got everything: speed, a shot, puck handling. He's just a real good player."
Tanguay remembers Lecavalier well from their days in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Tanguay played for Halifax, Lecavalier for Rimouski.
"At that point you could tell he was a good player," Tanguay said. "It will be fun to play against him and see how he plays (tonight)."
Right back at you, Lecavalier said.
"He's a good player," he said. "He's going to be a superstar in this league."
The differences are in their teams.
When Lecavalier was named Lightning captain last season at age 19, he was the youngest in NHL history on the youngest team in the league. Tampa Bay holds that distinction again this season.
Tanguay likes playing for a veteran team hardened by playoff success and failure.
"There is so much talent here," he said. "Especially for younger guys coming in, you don't have the pressure to perform right away. You have to perform, but there are other guys who can pick it up."
One might have been named Lecavalier. But Hartley wasn't dealing with hypotheticals.
"It would be hard to ask for much more than we have," he said.