Vincent Lecavalier finally has the lean, mean look of a captain.
On the first day of training camp the 23-year-old center, whose
off-season conditioning habits had been suspect in past summers,
whipped a number of teammates in a mandatory three-mile run and
sped past several others during a 15-lap, high-speed skate.
Lecavalier's new dedication symbolizes the overall maturing of
the Lightning, which last season had a franchise-record 93 points
and won the first division title and first playoff series in its
11-year history. "He doesn't look like a kid anymore," coach John
Tortorella says of Lecavalier, who was the No. 1 pick in the 1998
draft and is entering his sixth NHL season.
Lecavalier, who became the youngest captain in NHL history when
he wore the C as a 19-year-old, put up career bests in goals (33)
and assists (45) in 2002-03, but he wasn't alone in turning the
corner. Brad Richards, 23, had 57 assists, giving Tampa Bay the
best pair of young centers in the league. Right wing Martin St.
Louis, 28, tied Lecavalier for the team lead in goals and is
expected to play on Richards's line. Veteran Cory Stillman, who
was acquired from the Blues in June, will skate on the left side
with Lecavalier and may see time at the point on the power play.
The Lightning hopes Stillman, who had 67 points in 2002-03, can
make up for the loss of leading scorer Vinny Prospal to free
Nine experienced players man the blue line, although none is
All-Star caliber. Rugged Cory Sarich, 25, is a solid stay-at-home
defenseman, and slick-passing Dan Boyle, 27, is the group's top
points producer (53). The return of Jassen Cullimore, who missed
three months last year after undergoing left shoulder surgery,
will stabilize the unit.
Nikolai Khabibulin is one of the game's top goaltenders, but
Tortorella benched him in the fifth--and final--game of last
year's second-round playoff series against the Devils in favor of
John Grahame. Expect Khabibulin's name to come up in trade talks,
especially if Tampa Bay starts slowly. Though the Lightning
should win another division title, higher achievements are still
a few years off. --B.C.
COLOR PHOTO: DOUG PENSINGER/GETTY IMAGES/NHLI (2) VINCENT LECAVALIER
( 1 Best - 30 Worst )
POWER PLAY 8
PENALTY KILLING 18
G.M. AND COACH 17
The Lightning was not a fluke last season--this team is talented,
especially up front.... If offensively gifted F Nikita Alexeev,
who was sent to the minors, wants to play in the NHL, he'll have
to concentrate on his defense.... Rookie F Eero Somervuori will
be counted on to help offset the loss of leading scorer Vinny
Prospal to free agency.... LW Cory Stillman, who was acquired in
June, must produce offensively to keep opponents from keying on