VOORHEES, N.J. -- He entered the organization a top-six forward with all the potential in the world. A former captain and No. 1 overall draft pick, certainly he would provide a veteran boost for the Flyers.
But Vinny Lecavalier finished up his first season in Philadelphia a fourth-line center who averaged just 10:41 on the ice through the team’s seven playoff games. He scored only one goal in the postseason and was a minus-5. He didn’t find much success in the regular season, either.
It wasn’t the season Lecavalier -- or the team that signed him -- had in mind.
“It was kind of a tough year,” Lecavalier said. “I think I started the season really well, but when the team’s not winning, it’s definitely not -- I guess not good enough. I think the first 20 games until my injury I felt really good out there. And then I was out 10 or 13 games.
“Then I came back, and being maybe put in a different position, had to adjust to that. A lot of ups and downs.”
Lecavalier was signed last summer to a five-year, $22.5 million contract. At the time, general manager Paul Holmgren was excited about what the 34-year-old could bring to the Flyers. With Claude Giroux centering a line, Sean Couturier centering a line and Lecavalier centering a line, Holmgren said, the Flyers would be in good shape. He was a younger, bigger upgrade over the bought-out Danny Briere.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Lecavalier’s season started out OK, in the fall when the rest of the team was struggling. But things went downhill after he suffered a non-displaced fracture in his back in December.
When he returned from the injury, Lecavalier couldn’t get much going playing center on the team’s second line. Then, when he was moved to right wing and then left wing, he struggled even more. Finally, coach Craig Berube returned him to the middle, but on the fourth line. His minutes were cut significantly.
It wasn’t about any kind of lingering injury, though. Lecavalier felt fine; he just couldn’t get comfortable.
“It was really up and down,” he said. “Playing left wing was my first time and it definitely took 10-15 games to really just adjust to it. When I went back in the middle and I played with Hallsy (Adam Hall) and Rino (Zac Rinaldo), I came back with just being in the middle, I think I felt really good.
“I felt like I could not just stay on one side, but kind of skate around, get some more speed. I think we did good as a line.”
The issue is Lecavalier was not signed to be a fourth-line center (see story). For the amount of money and time the Flyers have invested in him, he needs to play a more integral role.
Lecavalier, though, doesn’t appear too concerned. He believes he can work hard this summer to return to form and come back next season ready to contribute.
In fact, at the Flyers’ locker clean-out day Friday, Lecavalier compared this past season to the season he had when he was 20 in 2001-02. His numbers were exactly the same, he said, and in the years that followed, he was able to get back on track and improve greatly. He went from 20 goals and 17 assists that year to 33 goals and 45 assists the next year.
And he is confident he can do so again.
“I believe in myself,” Lecavalier said. “I believe in what I can do. I’ve gotten kind of a freak injury this year with the cracked vertebrae. I’ve got crosschecked there about 500 times in my career if not more, and for some reason it cracks. It’s not because of old age, you know what I mean?
“I believe in what I can do. I missed 13 games. I believe I can bring [better] numbers for sure.”
And all it will take is a productive offseason.
“I’m going to work out hard like I do every summer and be ready for next year,” Lecavalier said. “I believe in myself and where I should be. Like I said, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs this year, but I believe in what I can do.”