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.