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The bad from 2013
Lecavalier got hurt and missed a little bit of time in 2013. That's a bit of a recurring trend for him in the last few years -- he hasn't played a full season since 2009-10, and has missed about 20 percent of the season in each of the three since then. A little bit of a worrisome trend in its uniformity, and not something that you necessarily like to hear about a 33-year old on a five-year deal. And it's not just one thing that's been bothering him -- there's enough variety that you worry that he may just be at a point in his career where he's susceptible to injury.
And while his points-per-game marks have held relatively steady over the last few seasons (0.85, 0.83, 0.78 and 0.82), it's true that he's not the player that he was in his prime.
The good from 2013
When on the ice, Lecavalier was probably one of the most productive second-line centers in the league last season, producing at a top-notch level for the Lightning. He scored .82 points per game last year, which was good for 18th in the league among NHL centers last year.
To put it one way (with the requisite small sample warnings): Last season, Lecavalier's leading linemate was Martin St. Louis (albeit with only about 38 percent of his ice time). Y'know how Martin St. Louis won the Art Ross last season? And spent most of his ice time (about 72% of it) with probably the best goal-scoring center in hockey, Steven Stamkos? Yeah, about that: Marty scored more points per 60 minutes while on the ice with Vincent Lecavalier (3.06) than he did with Stamkos (2.32).
Basically, Vincent Lecavalier was an elite center while on the ice for the Lightning last year, and is still a really, really good offensive hockey player.
What should we expect this season?
While Vinny's expressed a willingness to move to the wing to spend some time playing with Claude Giroux, it looks like he'll be spending most of his ice time in the same role he's had for a few years now in Tampa: as the team's second-line center. He'll likely be centering (at least to start the season) Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, on what should be a really good second line.
There are a lot of possibilities from there. He could move to the top line on occasion to Giroux's wing (or Giroux could maybe move to his wing). He could move over to wing on the second line and move Brayden Schenn back to center. He could play on Sean Couturier's wing if the team decides to bump Coots up. The flexibility in the lineup makes figuring out where he and folks around him can go a fun problem to have.
That's just at even strength. We haven't even touched what he does on the power play. I'm still in favor of the team leaving its top unit from last year the same (Timonen/Giroux/Voracek with Hartnell and Simmonds as the double-screen), because it was pretty damn good. I wouldn't lose any sleep if Vinny moved someone off of that unit, but I think him commandeering a second PP unit with the likes of Mark Streit, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Matt Read (with some Erik Gustafsson mixed in) greatly increases the overall threat level.
All of this said, he also could miss some time with injury, and frankly, we could budget 10-20 games missed in our forecast for him this year and I don't think anyone would blink. As mentioned, there's some risk there that absolutely has to be taken into account.
But if you're getting 60-70 games of really solid production (let's say around .75-.80 points per game) at even strength and the PP, that's still quite good, and a little bit of missed time is manageable with the team's forward depth. If he plays 75+ games, that's gravy.
Vinny stays totally healthy, keeps up or even slightly improves on his production from the past few seasons, and runs one of the best second lines in hockey with Schenn and Simmonds on his wings (helping Schenn along to a breakout year in the process). He also makes the team's second power play unit another legitimate force to be reckoned with, rather than just a break from the first unit.
Lecavalier's health problems are even worse than usual, and in the games he plays his aging decline speeds way up and he's clearly not the same forward he was even just a year ago, and we're saying "just four more years" when we write this preview again next fall.
When Lecavalier was signed on the evening of July 2, the overwhelming reaction was confusion at the fact that the Flyers were spending even more money on their already-good forward group and depth up the middle. Maybe there's some truth to that sentiment (personally, I was never quite under the impression that having too many good forwards was a bad thing, but I digress).
But with Danny Briere in decline and on his way out last year, another, obviously superior version of him to replace his spot in the lineup isn't a bad way to go at all. Lecavalier's a legitimate weapon that probably has a fair amount left in the tank, and he gives the Flyers some great forward depth and a lot of fun possibilities with their lineup.
Maybe he'll miss some games, and the team will be a bit worse off in those games. But assuming his talent doesn't totally fall off a cliff this year, he should be able to provide a big boost to the Flyers' top-6, and should be pretty fun to watch in the process.