<
>

After tough times in Philly, Vincent Lecvalier contributing to Cup contender in L.A.

Joining the Los Angeles Kings in their Stanley Cup chase has rejuvenated former Cup winner Vincent Lecavalier. John Cordes/Icon Sportswire

In nine games since joining the Los Angeles Kings, Vincent Lecavalier has four goals, already halfway to matching his entire goal production in 57 games with the Philadelphia Flyers last season.

So, there's that.

Those goals, along with an assist, tell only part of the story of a proud, motivated former star who is determined to go out of the game leaving a better impression than the one made in his time in Philadelphia.

If you're wondering whether Lecavalier is fueled by pride, consider his verbal commitment to the cap-strapped Kings to retire at the end of the season, forgoing the final two years and $6 million he's owed. That underlines how this final chapter in L.A. is about his passion for the game, and nothing else.

"I just wanted a chance to play," Lecavalier, 35, said over the phone Tuesday. "I wanted a role. I have that right now in L.A. Every player on this team has a role and I think it's what makes it a successful team.

"You can be a third- or fourth-line player but you have a role, you might have PK time or PP time. I feel like everyone here feels like he has a role, which brings its own pressure, and I like that feeling."

Playing mostly a bottom-six role with some power-play time thrown in, Lecavalier has averaged around 13 minutes per game and hasn't looked out of place at all.

"He looks engaged," said a rival Western Conference coach via text message. "He has been given more responsibilities and looks like he wants to prove to people he can handle it. I think he realizes he is on a good team with a chance to go out a winner and that is motivating him."

I would say a coach from another team pretty much nailed it when suggesting Lecavalier's 2004 Stanley Cup win in Tampa is now a distant memory, and that his hunger for a chance at one more is driving him, too.

"I like this team," said Lecavalier, whose Kings host the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night in their final game before before the All-Star break. "From that first day walking into the locker room, you could tell the leadership of it. It's not just one guy or two guys, it's a whole group, just how ready the players are before every game, just how prepared the coaches are, the video meetings, the systems, everybody is on the same page. I think it's why they've had so much success here. There's no 'I' here, everyone is playing as a team. It's what makes it special here."

And he doesn't feel like he's proved anything yet. He's eager to bring his game up a notch, if possible.

"I'm working really hard to get my game back to where I want it to be, there's still a lot of things I can do better," said Lecavalier, whose four goals have come in his past six games. "It's only been nine games, I want to finish the season strong and try to get better with the puck and without the puck. There are still things I can improve on and I want to do that."

It was smart of Kings general manager Dean Lombardi to make the deal with the Flyers happen almost two months before the trade deadline, allowing more time for Lecavalier and defenseman Luke Schenn -- who also came over in the deal, with Jordan Weal and a third-round pick in June going to the Flyers -- to become acclimated to their new team. Sometimes trade deadline additions just never quite fit in, but these guys are getting ample time to do so.

In the meantime, some have wondered if Lecavalier should change his mind on retirement, given how he's playing.

No chance, said Lecavalier. He gave his word to the Kings, and in his heart and mind he's ready to go out after this season. After all, the trade wouldn't have happened otherwise.

"I made that decision," he said. "It gave me a chance to play. In Philadelphia, I probably would not have played another game. I've had two tough years. Just to be able to get a chance to play, and be part of something, being with a good team, for me it's a no-brainer. And at the same time, I think I'll be ready for [retirement], mentally."

His post-hockey life will mean being back in Tampa full-time with his wife and three kids, all under age 6. Sounds pretty darn good, but before that, a Cup run could be coming.

That sounds enticing, too.