Wednesday, August 26, 2009

From Stud to not such a stud?

Is Vinny still a “superstar”? That might seem like a silly question to ask about someone who hasn’t turned 30 yet and is only two season removed from a fifty goal season. Oh yeah and he makes $10 million. Surely a team would not invest that type of money in an average player. Yet some signs might be pointing to the glory days fading for the Lightning center.

Full disclosure. I like Vincent Lecavalier. I hope he stays a member of the Lightning for the rest of his hall-of-fame career. I’m pretty sure I wrote a reverse-jinx post saying that trading him wouldn’t be a bad idea. I collect his cards, even paid close to Beckett value for a jersey card, at a card shop non the less. So maybe that clouds my judgment a bit.

That, however, might explain some things. I’m not a reporter who is supposed to remain impartial. I’m a fan who writes about his favorite teams. As a fan of Vincent Lecavalier, as a fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning, as a ½ season ticket holder (thanks unemployment check!), as all of those things I think the answer to the question is a resounding yes.

I think most of the people in the TBA would agree with me. I think a lot of people in Montreal would agree with me as well. An article I read today made me wonder a bit if his star is tarnished a tad. Michael Farber, one of the mainstream media folks who writes excellent stories about hockey, talked about Team Canada. The gist of the article is that Lecavalier, along with Joe Thornton, might not make the Olympic team.

Initially, that’s a shocking thought. Could there really be 5-6 NHL centers better than Vinny? Farber lists Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf as his top two centers. Mike Richards or Jonathan Toews would look to be the fourth line center and the rest of the centers in camp would be able to center or wing making them more valuable to the team.

Thornton and Lecavalier would be the odd men out as one position players. The thought that Vinny isn’t good enough to crack Canada’s roster is a sobering one. Coupled with his numbers from last season (29 goals and 67 points) and his superstar status is even shakier.

CBS sports had him ranked as their 34th best scorer at the end of last year. He doesn’t crack the top 20 of TSN’s player rankings (last updated in April). Now those numbers are based on his performance from last season, but it could signal a trend that Lightning fans might not like.

The new generation of the NHL is represented by Ovcehkin, Crosby and Malkin. The next generation is John Taveras and Vinny’s teammate Steven Stamkos. Lecavalier is caught in an in-between period of his career. Despite only being 29 he has been in the league for 9 seasons so it‘s a stretch to talk about his future potential. He should be in his prime, but is coming off his worst season statistically since 2002-03.

He also has never worn the captain’s “C” well. He isn’t an outgoing, in-your-face leader of men. His best seasons have come with an “A” on his sweater, when someone else is the acknowledged leader. It seems that he is more comfortable when there is a veteran player that can take the responsibility. Unfortunately, he is now that veteran player.

I think he’s a player that needs to be challenged. He came to age under the tough love coaching of John Tortorella. The country club atmosphere that Barry Melrose had for the start of the season is not conducive to him achieving his maximum results. Throughout the season Rick Tocchet seemed to let him be as well. Perhaps being a little tougher on his captain this season might produce better results.

This season is going to be huge for him. The big contract comes with big expectations. In order for the Bolts to sniff the playoffs they need two things:

1. Mike Smith healthy
2. Vincent Lecavalier scoring 40 goals.

He needs to reestablish his dominance. Health wise there should be no excuses. The shoulder injury that hampered him the last two seasons should be done. His off-season wrist surgery appears to have no effects as Farber reports that Lecavalier is having an excellent camp as he is “shooting the puck with more authority than he has in the past two years”.

Shooting the puck is a good thing. Vinny gets a little pass-happy at times. It’s a tribute to how unselfish he is on the ice. The thing is - sometimes the superstar needs to be a bit selfish. He needs to take his shots. In the two years he was among the elite there were moments, periods, games where Lecavalier put the team on his back and dominated. They need that again.

So is he still a superstar? Well ,to crib a term from everyone’s favorite collectible magazine I would currently call him an unlisted star. Here’s hoping there’s an up arrow next to his name by the time the season is over.

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