November 03, 2009
How often is a team captain with the highest salary and most celebrity unceremoniously dropped from the top line to a spot between two checking forwards?
As we noted yesterday in the Puck Headlines, that's what happened to Vincent Lecavalier(notes) this week with the Tampa Bay Lightning, as Coach Rick Tocchet made him the center between noted Art Ross threats Drew Miller(notes) and Stephane Veilleux(notes).
Lecavalier's offensive struggles this season have been well-documented -- he has 1 goal and is a minus-8 for the season -- but Tocchet took aim at the totality of Vinny's game:
"Not finishing checks, cheating a little bit, the little things that I will not let...It's unacceptable," Tocchet said. "That's the one thing I came into this year, if I see your game slipping - if you're not scoring, I can live with it - but if you're turning away from checks, and not battling down low defensively, if you're constantly on the ice and teams are getting chances against you, videos don't lie. This is something we're going to correct the next day, it's not going to be corrected next week. We've got to attack it."
That was on Sunday; yesterday, Tocchet spoke about Lecavalier again to the Tampa Tribune, specifically about his desire to line up with longtime partner in crime Marty St. Louis. Tocchet basically said the team is not Vinny's sandbox anymore:
"Vinny is still playing 20 minutes, he's still playing first-unit power play and he'll get shifts with Marty once in a while, he might get shifts with Ryan Malone(notes)," Tocchet said. "There is still plenty of ice time for him to get with certain people, but I'm looking for a two-way game from him and that's the way we are built, it's not two guys and the Tampa Bay Lightning, it's the Tampa Bay Lightning and that's the way it's got to be if we are going to compete, it has to be."
If this were John Tortorella placing Vinny Prospal under the bus, it probably doesn't merit too much scrutiny. But this is Rick Tocchet placing Vinny Lecavalier under the bus. Will it work?
After yesterday's loss to the Philadelphia Flyers -- the Bolts face Kessel and the Leafs tonigth -- Raw Charge wrote that the move to the third line "backfired on the entire team," even if Lecavalier played better hockey. From Raw Charge:
The first rule of trying to manipulate your team is you've got to really know your team. And while Martin St. Louis(notes) might be the heart and soul of the Lightning, Lecavalier is their identity. He's their top guy, their star, their captain. And if he's not on their top line in that role, no matter how poorly he may or may not be playing, then suddenly they're not who they think they are anymore.
The bottom line is that Lecavalier was moved to the third line, and the team crumbled like a bunch of stale cookies. St. Louis played particularly poorly - for him. He was still better than half the league, though. He did snap his 11-game point scoring streak, however.
Jon Jordan of HockeyBuzz is troubled by the fact that Lecavalier has looked ineffective for pretty much the entirety of 2009:
Any way you look at it, something's up with the big guy. To me, he just looks a step or two behind out there this year; not physically, really, as in a step or two slower than in his better days, but just kind of blah overall. ... Actually, it's the same way he looked for much of last season, which is baffling when you factor in just how badly he wants to put all that distracted him a year ago behind him.
Puck Buddy "The Skating Penguin" has been corresponding with us about this situation in Tampa, and made this point the other day on email:
"I think the Bolts should've unloaded VL4 before that huge bonus & no-trade clause kicked-in this July, because, sooner-or-later, this will be Stamkos'/Hedman's team."
While we don't necessarily agree with that, the first month of Lightning hockey has certainly provided the "Trade Vinny" contingent with a few "I-told-ya-so's."