Vinny Lecavalier spent 14 years playing with the Tampa Bay Lightning before his contract was bought out last summer. (USA Today Images)
SUNRISE, Fla. -- There are two ways most athletes view going back to their former city for the first time.
They either choose not to place to much emphasis on it, or approach their return with excitement and anticipation.
Vinny Lecavalier prefers the latter for Tuesday, when the Flyers practice in Tampa the day before he faces his former club for the first time in Florida.
“I am excited to go back,” Lecavalier said. “It’s not something I have really thought of. I’m just happy to go back and play against them and hope to play a great game there. I’m excited to go back and see my old teammates and buddies and play hard against them.”
It’s pretty safe to say that Lecavalier will get the same reaction in Tampa that Danny Briere will get in Philadelphia next month when Montreal visits -- prolonged cheers and likely standing ovations.
Lecavalier deserves it, too. He spent 14 years with the Lightning, playing over 1,000 games and registering more than 800 points. He delivered a Stanley Cup, too.
“I would think it will be positive,” Lecavalier said. “People have always supported me there. The circumstances [buyout]. I would think they still support me.”
His sister, parents and other relatives will be waiting for him. His parents live in his Florida house during the winter months.
Lecavalier said the hard part will be walking into the building and going a different direction.
“It will definitely feel weird walking into the doors of the arena,” he said. “And going to the other locker room. Actually, I have been in it a few times but it will definitely be weird. Just going into that part.
“Everything about Tampa, because I’ve been so long, it feels like. I always said I went back home in the summertime to Montreal then went back home to Tampa after that. It really feels like home. It’s definitely going to be special.”
Lecavalier has said a number of times since training camp that signing with the Flyers was easy and making the adjustment to Philadelphia and everything else has been pretty simple.
In fact, the only bad experience he’s had has been a shared one: the start to the Flyers' season back in October.
“The summer was, well, I wasn’t in Tampa, I was in Montreal,” Lecavalier said. “Everything happened so quickly and I got bought out and then three or four days later, I signed with Philly.
“It wasn’t until I went back to Tampa to get my stuff that it kind of hit me. I came back. I had 14 really fun years. But you gotta move on. I’m really happy where I am at and my family is happy, too.”
That aside, he did say that when he signed his 11-year, $85 million contract in 2009, he genuinely thought he would be a Bolt to the very end of his career.
When the new CBA came in, that all changed and Lecavalier said his meetings with general manager Steve Yyzerman after last season were pleasant -- classy though candid. He knew the buyout was a distinct possibility.
“Steve Yzerman told me a couple of weeks before they might do something,” Lecavalier said. “They did everything the right way. It was classy the way they did it. I’m happy to be [in Philly], but when I signed that deal [in Tampa], it would be to be in Tampa the rest of my career. I spent a lot of years there.
" ... The fan base, it was sold out every game. The team is obviously a real good team and playing well. It was tough, but you gotta move on.”
Which he has done. In fact, Lecavalier comes into Tampa with eight goals -- tops on the Flyers -- and 13 points.
So what does Lecavalier consider his real home? He said that’s hard to answer in one word.
“Even though I am from Montreal and loved going back there, Tampa has always been my home, yeah,” he said. “My kids were all born there. My sister’s family is there, my parents are there. It definitely feels like home. Montreal as well. They’re both my homes.”