The decision to buy out Vincent Lecavalier's contract appears to be working out quite well for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lecavalier might have been questioning his choice of a new destination until recently.
The leading goal scorer in franchise history plays against the Lightning for the first time in his 15-year career, and Lecavalier should get a warm reception from the crowd in Tampa on Wednesday night when he returns in a Philadelphia Flyers uniform.
The 33-year-old Lecavalier wasn't looking to leave the only NHL team for which he had played, but Tampa Bay opted to cut ties with its longtime captain in June to clear salary cap space. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 1998 scored 383 goals for the Lightning and helped lead them to a Stanley Cup in 2004, but he was owed $45 million over the next seven seasons, so general manager Steve Yzerman bought out his contract for $32 million over 14 years.
"Vinny will always be considered a part of the Tampa Bay Lightning family and his legacy will be celebrated at every opportunity," Yzerman told the team's official website at the time.
"... The decision to part ways with Vinny was not made easily. After much internal consideration we believe this will prove to be a pivotal move for us as we strive to achieve our long term goal of competing at the highest level, year-in and year-out."
Even the first year without him has been fruitful. Tampa Bay (15-8-1), which missed the playoffs the last two seasons, has been regularly at or near the top of the Eastern Conference this fall. Yzerman's biggest offseason acquisition to fill the hole left by Lecavalier was former Detroit center Valtteri Filppula, and he's third on the team with nine goals and 18 points.
Lecavalier is third on the Flyers (10-11-2) with 13 points and shares the team lead with eight goals after signing a five-year, $22.5 million contract. His Philadelphia tenure got off to a very rough start, including seeing coach Peter Laviolette fired after three games.
Lecavalier failed to register a point in six of his first 11 contests and missed four with injuries as the Flyers opened 4-10-1. That was the NHL's second-worst record through Nov. 7, with Philadelphia having scored more than two goals only once.
However, Lecavalier scored in the next two games and the Flyers totaled nine goals, sparking a 6-0-1 stretch during which their offense came to life. That run ended Monday, though, with a 3-1 loss at lowly Florida.
The Flyers were sluggish through the first two periods, and some admitted to possibly taking the game lightly.
"I hope not," coach Craig Berube said. "Who are we to overlook anybody? We talked about it before the game, about being ready. I'm not sure we were."
While Berube's team appeared to lack inspiration Monday, Tampa Bay had plenty of it. Besides seeing star Steven Stamkos walk without crutches for the first time since breaking his leg, captain Martin St. Louis was honored for playing his 1,000th game before the Lightning defeated the New York Rangers 5-0.
St. Louis had two goals and an assist to move past Stamkos for the team lead with 24 points.
"It was a special night, and to be able to win the game and contribute," St. Louis said. "I'll remember tonight for sure."
The 38-year-old former linemate of Lecavalier has 19 points during the Lightning's current 8-2-1 run against Philadelphia. The Flyers have dropped four straight in Tampa by a 16-5 score.
The Lightning's Ben Bishop has won six straight starts at home and has allowed nine goals in the last five after posting his first shutout of the season with 37 saves Monday.