Timeline: The Lecavalier Era in Tampa Bay


The Tampa Bay Lightning will buy out what’s left of Vincent Lecavalier‘s 11-year, $85,000,000 contract.

That decision was presumably made based on the reality of their salary cap situation and Lecavalier’s decline from a superstar to merely great player over the last several years. However this decision couldn’t have been an easy one for Tampa Bay given all that he’s done for them over the years.

With that in mind, we’d highlight some of Lecavalier’s biggest moments and accomplishments with the Lightning:

— When Lecavalier entered the league, it was amid incredible hype. That’s true of any first overall pick, but even by those standards, the way Lecavalier was built up was unique. Then Lightning owner Arthur Williams described the 18-year-old Lecavalier as a guy who could become the Michael Jordan of hockey.

“He’s absolutely our future,” Williams said back then, according to Sports Illustrated. “He’s the poster boy. He’s the person that we sort of build around. He has that kind of talent and that kind of ability. Thank the Lord we had the No. 1 pick.”

— Lecavalier became the team captain for the 2000-01 campaign, but he ended up losing the ‘C.’ By 2001-02, he had some good seasons, but nothing near what the team had expected. Things came to a head in Dec. 2001 when he demanded a trade. That campaign ended up being arguably the worst of his career.

— His career started to take off in a big way after that disastrous season. He recorded a then career-high 78 points in 2002-03 and helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in 2004.

— He set a pair of single-season franchise records in 2006-07 with 52 goals (which Steven Stamkos has since surpassed) and 108 points. He also became the first — but not the last — Lightning player to win the Rocket Richard Trophy. The following season he had 40 goals and 92 points in 81 games.

— Those seasons were what convinced the Lightning to ink Lecavalier to the contract they just bought out.

“Not only is Vincent one of the most dynamic players in the NHL, he’s one of the classiest people you’ll ever meet off the ice as well,” vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton said at the time, according to TSN. “With this deal our ownership has made it clear that he is the cornerstone of the Lightning, and Vincent has shown his dedication to the franchise and the Tampa Bay area by signing for less than he undoubtedly would’ve received on the open market. This is a great day for all Lightning fans.”

He also regained his title as the team’s captain mere months after the contract became official.

— Since signing that deal, he’s never recorded more than 70 points in a season. He’s remained an effective top-six forward, but his accomplished have been drowned out by the expectations associated with that massive contract.

— On Jan. 21, 2013, Lecavalier played in his 1,000th career game. He was just the fifth former first overall pick to ever reach that milestone with the team that selected him.

— Lecavalier is the team’s all-time leader in games played and goals. He also ranks second behind Martin St. Louis in points with 874.

Ilya Kovalchuk aiming for NHL return after 5 years away

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MOSCOW (AP) Former NHL forward Ilya Kovalchuk says he wants to return to the league this summer and play there for “several more years.”

Kovalchuk tells Russian state sports channel Match TV that if he doesn’t try again to win a Stanley Cup, “I won’t forgive myself for it when I get older.”

Kovalchuk, who won the Olympic gold medal last month, says he’s focused on winning the Kontinental Hockey League with SKA St. Petersburg, “but in the summer I’m going to examine offers” from the NHL.

He adds that he wants to match Russian teammate Pavel Datsyuk as a member of the so-called triple gold club of players who have won the Olympic gold medal, world championship, and Stanley Cup.

Kovalchuk walked out on the New Jersey Devils in 2013 to return to Russia, where he has since won two KHL titles.

The Buzzer: Kane nets four; Preds first to clinch

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Players of the Night:

Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks: It took him 565 NHL games and three teams, but Kane now has his first NHL hat trick. Then he made sure to grab his first four-goal NHL game for the hell of it. Kane has five goals and 10 points in eight games since the trade deadline, the most of any player dealt this year on deadline day.

Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators: Hoffman had an assist in regulation and then one-timed his fifth game-winning goal of the season in overtime to help the Senators past the Dallas Stars.

Nashville Predators: For no other reason than they claimed first blood in a 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche, becoming the first team this season to clinch a playoff spot.

Highlights of the Night:

Bravo, Johnny:

Kane’s hat trick goal:



Factoids of the Night:


Senators 3, Stars 2 (OT)

Capitals 6, Islanders 3

Predators 4, Avalanche 2

Sharks 7, Flames 4

Ducks 4, Red Wings 2

Wild 4, Golden Knights 2

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Rangers getting a good look at the future, despite playoff disappointment

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Silver linings for teams far off the playoff line are few and far between at this time of the year.

But if there is one that can be taken for any team looking at re-tooling or rebuilding for next season, it’s the ability to take a look at the future crop against NHL adversaries.

The New York Rangers are one of these teams. They declared themselves open for business prior to the trade deadline and dealt away some big names, including Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh, for some younger talent.

They’re also facing a challenge with aging goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who, as great as he is, won’t win the battle with Father Time.

Needing to fill holes at several positions, the Rangers have been able to take a good look at a couple of promising prospects, including what may well be their future between the pipes.

New York has played rookie Alexandar Georgiev six times and owns a 3-2-0 record since he played his first NHL game on Feb. 22. Despite picking up the loss, Georgiev allowed just two goals on 40 shots for a .950 save percentage.

He’d give up four in his next start the following night, but since then has amassed three straight wins, including a 37-save performance on Wednesday against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He’ll be called upon again on Saturday, another test and another chance for evaluation.

The inital analysis is promising. Georgiev is sitting on a very respectable .929 save percentage in his brief time in the NHL and he’s already turning heads around the league.

NHL.com’s Kevin Woodley’s wrote that Georgiev is taking after the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky — some pretty good company.

Blueshirt Banter’s Tom Urtz Jr. took a really deep dive in Georgiev, concluding by calling him a “pleasant surprise.”

There’s a lot to like about him, his potential is visible, and the circumstances are set up in his favor for him to be able to prove himself more in an extended setting next season,” Urtz Jr. wrote.

Shifting to the men in the rearguard, Neal Pionk is making the most the big minutes he’s been getting over the past 17 games, and he’s starting to produce.

Pionk is on a three-game point streak with five assists during that span.

Also 22 and also undrafted, Pionk, like Georgiev, is showing real promise on defense.

“He competes hard and he’s got a good skill set,” Vigneault told NYRangers.com on Friday. “He can make that good pass and there’s no doubt that in his college and prior to that, he was considered an offensive defenseman. He’d join the rush and was good on the power play, so there is some upside there with him. We need to continue to work at his game and continue to improve it.”

The Rangers appear to have some budding young talent and an array of players to build around with the likes Pavel Buchnevich, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jimmy Vesey — assuming they sign the latter two who are set to become RFAs at the end of this season.

And perhaps most importantly, the Rangers, who have long held the distinction as a team where old players go to get older, seem to finally be favoring youth over past-their-prime talent.

That’s good news for Rangers fans.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ducks lose Bieksa for 2-5 weeks


ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa will be out for two to five weeks after surgery to remove scar tissue from his left hand.

Bieksa is having surgery Friday, the Ducks announced.

The 36-year-old Bieksa has eight assists in 59 games this season for Anaheim, which is fighting to get into playoff position with three weeks left in the regular season.

Anaheim recalled defenseman Korbinian Holzer from its AHL affiliate in San Diego before facing the Detroit Red Wings at Honda Center on Friday night.

The Ducks have won five consecutive Pacific Division titles and made five straight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals last season. But Anaheim (35-24-12) began this weekend out of playoff position and in fourth place in the Pacific.

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/tags/NHLhockey