“Grand Marshal“, why does that seem such a fitting title for Vincent Lecavalier who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning 1st overall in the 1998 NHL Draft, ventured through the hell of a lost franchise, the warfare of conflict with John Tortorella (and calm bestowed upon the pair by Jay Feaster), and has his name immortalized on the Chalice of Lord Stanley with his colleagues and companions from the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning roster?
Vinny rules. He was…no, no, wait, wait; he is. He is Tampa Bay Lightning hockey. While Roman Hamrlik was draft pick Numero Uno for the hockey franchise bestowed upon Phil Esposito and the Tampa/St. Petersburg Metroplex, while Chris Gratton and Jason Weimer were early standard-bearers along with Hammer. They didn’t last in Tampa. They didn’t develop fully and top out with the Bolts (or, arguably at all). Everyone that came to the Lightning between 1992 and 1997 just came and went. They served, they left a mark.
The ones who went deepest in the psyche of the fledgling market did not come by way of the draft or having developed with or through Tampa Bay. That is not trying to write off long-time alumni and early stars of this club like Brian Bradley or Darren Puppa, Rob Zamuner or Alex Selivanov. They gave us a taste of what was to come. They let us feel it and revel in it – Tampa Bay Lightning hockey and being a competitive force in the NHL and drawing us to the game. The 1996 NHL playoffs was a glimpse of what was to come.
Lecavalier helped show us what is an what can be.
Oh, he had help (to say the least!!) with his cohorts like long-time friend and teammate Brad Richards, an overcoming-the-odds nano-forward Martin St. Louis, Fredrik Modin, Pavel Kubina, Jassen Cullimore, Dan Boyle… Add the guidance of Captain Dave Andreychuk and the security of the Bulin Wall (goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin). Vinny achieved. Tampa Bay achieved. God dammit! This is Hockey Bay, USA. Population: Us.
He may not have minted the franchise, he may not have been selection #1 ever, “the Michael Jordan of Hockey” he wasn’t, but we grew with Vinny as the franchise drifted through a void before finding direction by way of the late William Davidson and Palace Sports and Entertainment.
Yet, there is a void that stands in the franchise cosmos. A void created by way of generosity (sic) of another owner of the franchise. It is a void that exists by way of Lecavalier’s departure from the Lightning in the summer of 2013. That void is commonly known as What Could Have Been. It was inadvertently created through a business decision that went far too deep and too fast too brazenly: OK Hockey Group’s signing Lecavalier to an OMGWTF contract extension after taking over the franchise in 2008. That albatross eventually led to Lecavalier’s amnesty buyout after the brief 2013 season.
What could have been of Vincent Lecavalier, Captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning, if his 11 year, $85 million contract wasn’t that behemoth? How would things have played out with the 2013-14 Lightning team that was a success by way of the Admiral-invasion and birth of Tampacuse? It had also been another heartbreaking and era-ending season by way of drama and the departure of Martin St. Louis from the franchise, passing the Captain title on Steven Stamkos. I won’t fault his leadership in the quick ousting of the Bolts from the 2014 playoffs… I will wonder how Vinny’s influence would have played over that, as well as wonder how things would have gone with the St. Louis departure would have taken before and after it happened.
How would things play out if Vinny had been a cog to boost the 2014-15 Bolts squad, who came thisclose to their own immortalizing upon the Chalice of Lord Stanley?
What could have been isn’t what was – Vinny fell down, went boom with the Philadelphia Flyers and made a last-grasp/last-gasp effort with the Los Angeles Kings before retiring from the sport in the summer of 2017. Yet there’s no guarantee that wouldn’t have played out (under exceedingly different circumstances) in Tampa Bay. There’s no guarantee he wouldn’t have requested his own trade from the Bolts a-la Marty, but the where and why would have been a different story, disclosed in a different fashion.
And there is no guarantee that Steve Yzerman, the Jedi Master of a GM, wouldn’t have moved Lecaalier in a deal beneficial to the organization.
Thinking about what was and dreaming of what-could-have-been doesn’t change history and the what is. Vincent Lecavalier is and was an asset to Tampa Bay in the sports world. He’s won the proverbial championship, he’s been part of the reason the Lightning contended in one way or another in the first decade of the 21st century. In ten years time there were five playoff berths. He was the face of the franchise. That’s a commodity the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have long sought on offense with their quest for a marquee, home-grown quarterback.
Yet it’s not just the one-player that makes a team grand and as I’ve already noted – it hasn’t been just Vinny, nor was Vinny always the top of offensive cog for the Bolts. He has been a leader though and a key contributor in team performance, production and just where this franchise has gone in competitiveness.
So, “Grand Marshal” that’s Vinny’s title for January 27th, ordained as such by Ye Mystic Krewe, the swabs, mates, and jolly pirates of the José Gaspar who command the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. How many of Vinny’s underlings aboard the ship and in the Gasparilla parade will be NHL players and alumni remains to be seen, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have a few