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Lecavalier gets some peace

After trade rumors cease, the Lightning center returns to his hometown in a calm frame of mind.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 17, 2001

MONTREAL -- Vinny Lecavalier just shakes his head when he thinks what this weekend could have been like.

Had the Lightning center still been the subject of trade rumors, the Montreal media, which always turns out big to cover the return of the local boy who was the top pick of the 1998 draft, would have been more frenzied than usual.

"It would have been crazy," said Lecavalier, who grew up in Ile Bizard, a Montreal suburb.

As it turned out, it was merely busy after Sunday's practice at the Molson Centre -- three newspaper reporters and two from television -- which means things are back to normal.

And that is just how Lecavalier wants it.

The 21-year-old is expected to be with the Lightning at least through this season after his trade request could not be accommodated and general manager Rick Dudley said he stopped taking offers.

Lecavalier still will not say if he was disappointed by the outcome. But he is relieved the episode was put to rest at the start of a five-game trip through Canada that ends tonight against the Canadiens.

"Really happy," he said. "I didn't want to make it a distraction for the team which, coming to Canada, I think it did. So I'm happy it's over with."

Lecavalier said he is committed to playing for Tampa Bay, getting the team to the playoffs -- something he said could happen this season -- and making a real difference on offense, something he hasn't done since December of last season.

Lecavalier has 4 goals and 8 assists in 30 games, and 1 goal in his past 15. At that pace he will end the season with 11 goals and 32 points, the least since his rookie season.

He has played well recently, skating better and attacking more on offense. He also is making a legitimate effort on defense, trying to develop the complete game coach John Tortorella preaches.

In the end, though, it is goals and points that will define Lecavalier, and his pairing with recently acquired left wing Zdeno Ciger, a good passer who is willing to get to the net, might be the needed spark.

First, though, Lecavalier wanted to clear up some things about his relationship with Tortorella. Whatever disagreements they had, Lecavalier said they were exaggerated.

"People think we're at each other's throats and don't talk to each other," he said. "But the team is going right and the direction of the coaching staff is helping. In the past we had differences, but now we communicate very well and communicate on the bench. We're on the right path."

"No matter what happened we have, from Day1, tried to coach Vinny," Tortorella said. "Even through the stuff which I think was blown out of proportion, we continued to do that. We need him to be the best he can be for us to be a better team."

The lack of production is frustrating, but Lecavalier said he is sure it will come.

"I will produce and help this team," he said. "I'm here and I'm going to work hard. I see the light where we could make it to the playoffs, and that's what's exciting."

Exciting for Tortorella is watching Lecavalier's legs churn as he crosses the blue line. When he glides, the coach said it signals "a turnover waiting to happen. ... We want him to think shoot first."

And to think about hockey, something that became a lot easier when the trade rumors stopped.

"For any player with all the things going on around him, I'm sure it played on his mind," Tortorella said. "But it's up to Vinny to get back to concentrating on his game."

He will have no trouble tonight in front of so many friends and family, he said he does not know how many will show.

"I'm going to be pumped up for this game," he said.

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