LOS ANGELES -- It’s not easy right now being Vinny Lecavalier.
After 15 years in the National Hockey League, the 33-year-old Quebec native is having difficulty making the transition from center to wing in his first season with the Flyers.
Not right wing, which he’s played before and says he can be comfortable at, but left wing, which is foreign to him.
This is an accomplished player. A four-time NHL All-Star and a former Olympian with a Stanley Cup and Rocket Richard Trophy to his name. There are times on the ice right now where he feels lost.
Flyers coach Craig Berube is trying to get Lecavalier going but he can’t play him at center on the first, second or third lines without harming the development of Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier.
“I’m definitely not used to this,” Lecavalier said. “I’ve never played that side. It’s where I am at so I've got to try and adjust, and I have to adjust. That is part of it. Every game I am getting more comfortable, but it’s not my natural position.”
Berube knows what he’s going through and respects the fact that this is a challenge for a player who is playing on a five-year contract that will likely lead him into retirement.
It’s a lot to ask of him at this stage of his career, but with just 12 goals in 43 games, Lecavalier is in a rut that only he can pull himself out of. He had a nice assist Saturday against the Kings on Wayne Simmonds’ 100th NHL goal, but he didn't register a shot.
“He’s got to keep working his way out of it and I have to keep working with him,” Berube said. “It’s hard work and confidence.”
Lecavalier had a goal and two prime scoring chances against Anaheim on Thursday.
“He should have had two goals that game,” Berube said. “But the thing is, he’s a shooter. That’s what he is. He has to shoot the puck. He has to put himself in position to shoot the puck. Whether it’s 5-on-5 or power play, he has to put himself in position to shoot.
“I’m not saying it’s easy [to transition at his age]. Is it tough? Well, it might be. You have to ask him. Whether it is or not, he has to find a way.”
Two of his 12 goals have come in the last four games.
“It’s been a little bit of an adjustment for Vinny,” said assistant general manager Ron Hextall, who made the West Coast trip in place of Paul Holmgren. “He was in Tampa a long time there. Different system, different way of thinking. That’s No. 1.
“The second thing is, we’re a team with a lot of centermen. Some teams have them and some don’t. He’s effectively played out of position a big part of the year. He played well for us earlier. Recently, I don’t think he’s played his best hockey.
“He was a scoring threat in Anaheim. Vinny has to be a scoring threat. That’s what he’s done that his whole career. ... He has to find openings, get to the net. In the end, he’s got to put the puck in the net. The Anaheim game was a step in the right direction.”
The Flyers are not going to sacrifice Schenn’s development to move Lecavalier back to center. They’ve been hoping Schenn would grow in the pivot role and he has this season.
This is one of those free-agent signings that sparked a lot of hoopla around the NHL, but the fact remains, the Flyers were jammed at center to begin with and they remain so.
Last summer and even now, their need is a scoring winger. Holmgren felt Lecavalier’s value in the middle trumped those other concerns, and that he could play wing if it came to that. It hasn’t worked out great for either Lecavalier or the club, but there’s still a quarter of the season left to make it work.
“Honestly, it’s a total change,” Lecavalier said. “Being a center all my life, it’s totally different. It’s hard to explain. You are used to kinda going everywhere on the ice and now it’s more staying on that left side.”
Berube says if Lecavalier adjusts his mindset to “shoot” when he comes down the left side, this has a chance to work out for everyone.
“Schenner has been a pretty good player for us in the middle of the ice,” Berube said. “It’s kinda tough to get him out of there right now.
“[Lecavalier] had some chances [against Anaheim] on scoring a goal, he got the power play goal and had another opportunity from the left side. He’s got to work his way out of it. Keep working and hopefully, that line can find a spark.
“The one play he came down the left side and Schenner made a pass to him and he shot it point on. I’ve talked to him about being a power forward coming down that left side and shooting hockey pucks. It’s a simple game.”
Lecavalier says he’s trying to learn a new position and will just grin 'n bear it for now.
“I’d like to play center, but I am not there,” he said. “I have to work on shooting from the left side and try to get better at it. It’s just totally different for me. It is what it is.”