As time marches forward, we are now approaching the four-year anniversary of former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier announcing his retirement from the NHL. He played in 1,212 games, scoring 421 goals and 949 points while playing for the Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers before ending his career with the Los Angeles Kings.
For many Lightning fans, the mere mention of Lecavalier’s name brings fond memories. He was the fresh-faced 18-year-old kid who was asked to put the still young and struggling expansion team on his back, whether he was ready for the challenge or not.
Now, more than two decades after he was selected #1 overall, we can truly appreciate what Lecavalier meant not only for Lightning hockey but also the larger community surrounding Tampa Bay.
Lecavalier Asked to Be Like Mike
Being the first player selected in any draft comes with an inordinate level of expectations, from the organization to the coaches to the fans and even from the player himself. To add to this, then Lightning owner, the well-meaning but misguided Art Williams, proclaimed Lecavalier to be the “Michael Jordan” of hockey.
While there will always be some who believe that Lecavalier never lived up to a top draft selection (let alone Wiliams’ ludicrous proclamation), his production while wearing the Bolt sweater was second to none. He still is first in team history in games played, second in goals behind only Steven Stamkos and sits second in assists and points to his old running mate, Marty St. Louis.
It wasn’t always easy while he was with the franchise, either, as Lecavalier endured many rough years as ownership and management struggled for consistency. He did, however, become the face of the Lightning hockey and was one of the most recognizable figures in all of sports across Tampa Bay.
Lecavalier Built a City-Defining Foundation
As good as Vinny was on the ice, the measure of what he meant to the Tampa Bay community must include his unwavering commitment to the Vinny Lecavalier Foundation and his donations to the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Vinny Lecavalier Foundation raised and millions for the hospital throughout his years in Tampa, both before and after his retirement.
His foundation was so instrumental in helping young lives battling in the fight of their lives that there now exists a Vinny Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer & Blood Disorders Center wing at All Children’s. This part of his legacy alone makes him truly special, as he has impacted so many lives due to this dedication to helping such a serious fight.
He wasn’t just a name associated with a charitable foundation, either. Lecavalier gave of himself. His time to kids who were ill, his time with local businesses to raise money and most importantly, his time throughout the community to raise awareness.
The On-Ice Legacy of Lecavalier
Lecavalier was no slouch as a player, of course, amassing lofty numbers and awards for the Lightning. He won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, leading the NHL in goals in 2006-07. In the following season, he was awarded the King Clancy Award given to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off with his noteworthy humanitarian contribution to his community.
During the Stanley Cup run in 2004, Lecavalier was an integral part of the only team in Lighting history to win the Cup so far. During this magical postseason, he scored nine goals and added seven assists, including a helper on the Game 7 game-winning goal.
Throughout his time with Tampa Bay, Lecavalier was nothing but a class act. Even upon his buyout back in 2013, he handled the situation with grace and poise, understanding the situation while leaving the only franchise he had ever played for with cheers and tears instead of jeers and frustration.
Lightning Will Never Forget Lecavalier’s Legacy
While there was never any doubt that Lecavalier’s number would one day be retired, the Lightning made it official back on Feb. 10th, 2018.
As THW said about the jersey retirement at the time:
Lecavalier will join his friend and former teammate Martin St. Louis as the second player to have his number retired by the franchise. It is fitting for these two to have their numbers in the rafters of Amalie Arena, as they were both integral to building the Lightning.
However, even with his strong play on the ice, there are countless children and young adults who will never forget this man and it won’t have a damn thing to do with hockey. For many across Tampa Bay, Lecavalier’s name is bigger than the Lightning or even sports… He represents the impact one person can have on a community when they set their mind to making a difference.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.