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After season with diminished role, Flyers' Lecavalier is at a career crossroads

03/29/2015 01:24 EDT | Updated 05/29/2015 05:59 EDT
VOORHEES, N.J. - These days it's hard to find the Vincent Lecavalier who once led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup and led the NHL in goals.

Almost 35 years old now and in his second season with the Philadelphia Flyers, Lecavalier has been a healthy scratch 17 times and on the fourth line when playing, he'll finish with the lowest point production of his career.

"Obviously the role I had this year is not the role I want to finish my career with," Lecavalier said Friday. "But I still think I can produce in this league. I've done it last year and my whole career."

In 16 NHL seasons, Lecavalier has scored at least 20 goals 13 times, including 2013-14. He has seven through 52 games with six left to go and no certainty that he'll play in every one.

The question remains how many more games Lecavalier has left in the tank and where he'll be playing them. He has three years left on his contract at a cap hit of US$4.5 million and said he wants to honour the rest of the deal.

That could be in Philadelphia, assuming coach Craig Berube isn't back, or somewhere else via trade. One thing Lecavalier strongly believes is that he's not finished playing.

"Maybe it's just a better opportunity I need," Lecavalier said. "It happens to a lot of guys. Sometimes you just have to get out of it, try to get out of it and work hard through it and maybe another opportunity will happen."

Lecavalier is in the process of selling his home in Tampa, Fla., and is renting a house in the Philadelphia area. After 14 seasons as the face of the Lightning franchise, uncertainty has become the new normal for the Ile Bizard, Que., native.

Owed another $2 million roster bonus this summer, Lecavalier will have made $14 million of the $22.5 million from his contract before stepping onto the ice next season. Counting buyout payments from the Lightning that run through the 2026-2027 season, Lecavalier could earn the most money of any player in NHL history, with Jaromir Jagr the only active challenger.

Lecavalier said he wouldn't ask the Flyers to buy him out of this deal. He just wants to play.

"I feel like I've trained my whole career to extend those years and feel good when I'm 35, 36, 37 years old," he said. "I feel like it's not a matter of not having legs or anything like that. I was never a really fast guy. I've always been the same speed. I feel good."

Berube said Friday that Lecavalier has struggled with positioning, adding that he doesn't think the veteran forward has gotten an "unfair shot."

Lecavalier started the season at centre before breaking his foot and missing seven games. He has made no secret of his desire to play centre rather than right wing, where he has been stuck because Berube believes the Flyers have better centres in Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

"I'm not sure he's had problems with the system," Berube said. "The middle of the ice in our system is a lot of work. You have to be back. You have to really skate and be back and play both ends of the ice. It takes a lot of effort."

After three games as a healthy scratch, Lecavalier returned to the lineup Saturday and played over 15 minutes against the San Jose Sharks. Despite the diminished role, Lecavalier won't criticize Berube for how he chooses to use him.

"I don't want to bash anybody," he said. "He does what he thinks is best for the team."

Lecavalier said he enjoys the Flyers' team and organization and would "love to come back." With less than two weeks left in the season, he considers it too premature to speculate on his future.

"I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "It was a tough year and I know I can bounce back because mentally I still feel strong and I'm ready to go."

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