EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Many veteran athletes involved in a midseason trade make the journey alone, spending weeks or months in a hotel before reorganizing their families’ lives in their new home.
Vincent Lecavalier is not most athletes. Less than a week after he was traded from Philadelphia to the Los Angeles Kings, he had moved his wife, Caroline, and their three children – all under 6 years old – out to the West Coast.
“I love being with my kids and my wife,” Lecavalier said Tuesday after practice. “I tried to do it as quickly as possible. That’s something that’s important for me. We go a lot on the road during the regular season, so when I’m home, I like to spend time with them. It’s been great.”
It’s all the more remarkable because Lecavalier isn’t planning a lengthy stay in LA. He has vowed to retire this summer after his 17th NHL season, ending a standout career with one last run at the Stanley Cup.
Yet in just nine games, the 35-year-old Lecavalier has made it clear he still has plenty to give to the game – and the Kings are already feeling like another family.
Lecavalier has scored four goals in the Kings’ last six games, matching his goal total in his previous 45 games for the Flyers. After barely playing for the past year, Lecavalier is getting significant ice time and taking a dozen faceoffs per game for the Kings, who are 5-3-1 since his arrival.
Lecavalier has 415 career goals, and he looks capable of getting a whole lot more. Yet he only smiles when he’s told that fans are hoping he’ll change his mind about retirement.
“Well, I mean, I’ve already taken my decision, so …,” Lecavalier said, trailing off. “But I don’t want to think about in five months. I want to go game by game, because I still have to build my confidence. I still have to keep pushing, and I want to focus on now and (Wednesday) night’s game, not five months from now.”
Lecavalier and defenceman Luke Schenn have been remarkable trade acquisitions for the first-place Kings, who wrap up their pre-All-Star break schedule Wednesday at home against Colorado. Los Angeles entered Tuesday with a nine-point lead atop the Pacific Division and a clear shot at the club’s third NHL title in five seasons.
Lecavalier scored power-play goals in three straight games for Los Angeles with his still-formidable shot from the faceoff circle. His fourth goal was the biggest, however: Lecavalier got the tying score with 12.2 seconds left in San Jose last weekend, and Marian Gaborik won it in overtime to snatch two points against the Kings’ upstate rivals and their closest pursuers in the Pacific.
Lecavalier has fit into the system employed by Kings coach Darryl Sutter, embracing his defensive responsibilities along with the chance to score.
“I’ve been with some good coaches in the past, but I really feel that system-wise, this is probably the best I’ve seen in a team,” Lecavalier said. “(Sutter) makes us feel welcome. … They make it a lot of black and white, so that makes things easier.”
Lecavalier’s former teammates in Philadelphia are almost as pleased as the Kings to see his rejuvenation. He was a healthy scratch for 22 consecutive games before the trade, yet never ripped the Flyers or coach Dave Hakstol.
“I think everybody in this (locker) room wants Vinny to succeed,” Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux said. “For him to be in the position he was in when he was here, it must have been the worst. … As a teammate, there’s not a better teammate out there.”
Although he still speaks fondly of his Flyers teammates, Lecavalier is grateful to be on to another challenge after getting his family out of Philadelphia.
“Obviously, I didn’t want to be there,” Lecavalier said. “When you’re not playing, you want to say the right things, and in the locker room you want to be a good teammate, but I didn’t really want to be in that atmosphere, just because I wasn’t playing. Great bunch of guys and everything, but when you’re not playing – and even when you’re playing, you don’t really have a role, you play five, six minutes – it’s not really the way that I envisioned it.
“I didn’t really want to be there. But then something good happened.”