Sunday, June 30, 2013
The Hockey Life: Thanks, Vinny
Last Thursday, a certain sadness hung in the air over the Tampa Bay hockey community. The Lightning released its captain, Vinny Lecavalier, for purely business reasons. It had nothing to do with his career numbers, a timely fight and the hoisting of the Lightning's sole Stanley Cup. Character issues, thankfully, never entered the picture. And, from what I've heard and read, he was the consummate team guy.
No, it was all about a contract, one that team management, and most knowledgeable hockey fans, knew was simply too costly, namely the Law of Diminishing Returns. If that doesn't drive home that sports, and not just hockey, isn't a business, I'm not sure what would. In life, this is yet another lesson.
Down here in Hockey Bay, it's a common belief that Marty St. Louis is the heart and soul of the Tampa Bay Lightning. But, when it comes to the face of the franchise, as well as the Tampa Bay community, it's Vinny who stands the tallest. Sure, Steven Stamkos is waiting in the wings, but the kid still has a long way to go to even warrant inclusion in the same sentence.
Like Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones wrote Friday, Vinny's impact in the Tampa Bay area went far beyond the ice. He has raised millions for research battling cancer in children. Just down the road from us, at All Children's Hospital, it's his name on a center, as well as his time, energy and money, devoted to a cruel fact of life.
By no way, shape or means could I ever call myself a friend or even an acquaintance of Vinny. Granted, there may have been some facial recognition in seasons past for the many times he has signed items for us. Every time we met, though, I walked away with the feeling that Vinny was a genuine, humble and gracious person.
There's no surprise that Vinny has often been compared to Montreal's Jean Beliveau, a hockey great who personifies class, dignity and elegance.
At this time, all I can do is appreciate what Vinny has meant to the Tampa Bay area. It remains a job well done. We can only hope that he returns, once his playing days are over, to further his good works.