Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Jon Jordan on 01/20/11 at 04:01 PM ET
I’ve been stuck in stats mode of late – something not at all uncommon for me when the creative juices are otherwise limited for whatever reason. There’s plenty of material to work with on the horizon, however, as I’ll be traveling to Raleigh next Thursday to cover All-Star Weekend festivities (stay tuned for specific announcements on coverage plans there) and two meetings between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers to capture my attention between now and then.
Before the first of those contests tonight in Atlanta, Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier celebrating his 900th regular season game in Tuesday night’s win over Columbus meant he’d become the focus of my latest number-crunching. The 900-game milestone pushed me to take another look at offensive production throughout his career; this time, in nine 100-game segments.
Of course, Vinny’s been overanalyzed from every angle and by every method imaginable over the course of his career, particularly since signing an enormous, 11-year, $85-million contract extension in the summer of 2008, and these days, the official team stance seems to be that what Lecavalier brings to the Lightning involves far more than just point totals.
To that end, all parties seem pleased this season. Lecavalier certainly seems much happier than in recent years, despite missing 16 games to a hand injury, and the coaching staff and front office has continually lauded his evolution into a more well-rounded player.
I contend that with that contract, like it or not, Lecavalier will always be measured by his point production, first and foremost (though no one can ever fault a player for signing such a lofty contract proposal passed across the negotiating table in their direction). That said, I’ve also long maintained that the expectations for the Lightning captain have been a bit unrealistic (and maybe even a bit unfair) since what amounts to a 17-month spike (hockey-playing months, that is) to superstar scoring levels on the radar of an otherwise much more modest, yet very respectable career from December, 2005 to March, 2008.
In an era where 50-goal, 100-point seasons are so difficult to come by, Lecavalier’s stat line of 52-56-108 in 2006-07 deserves its just due, as does the follow-up a season later of 40-52-92. But those two seasons, nor the increased production during the surrounding time period, should never have been the expectation for Vinny from that point forward. He’s a fine player with 10 seasons of 20 goals or more, five with 30 or more, two 40+ and the 52 tallies in ’06-’07. A bona fide superstar? Maybe not, aside from two spectacular campaigns. Still, if you’re Lightning management at the time, you’re hoping that 200 points in two seasons’ time was more fire, less flicker. Shortly locking down the captain for what amounts to a hockey lifetime, unfortunately, it became clear that expectations of that stature would never be met.
But, from an overall production standpoint, breaking down Lecavalier’s 900 regular season games into smaller samplings, he’s actually been very consistent. Not the game-changing force on a nightly basis, as was once the hope, mind you, but dependable nonetheless.
Consider the numbers:
1st 100 games
October 9th, 1998 – November 18th, 1999 (82 games in 1998-99 and 18 in 1999-2000): 19-20-39
November 20th, 1999 – January 3rd, 2001 (62 games in 1999-2000 and 38 in 2000-01): 34-55-89
January 4th, 2001 – April 3rd, 2002 (30 games in 2000-01 and 70 in 2001-02): 23-26-49
April 4th, 2002 – November 14th, 2003 (Six games in 2001-02, 80 in 2002-03 and 14 in 2003-04): 47-50-97
November 20th, 2003 – December 17th, 2005 (67 games in 2003-04 and 33 in 2005-06): 37-50-87
December 20th, 2005 – February 1st, 2007 (47 games in 2005-06 and 53 in 2006-07): 53-56-109
February 3rd, 2007 – March 13th, 2008 (29 games in 2006-07 and 71 in 2007-08): 57-68-125
March 15th, 2008 – November 3rd, 2009 (10 games in 2007-08, 77 in 2008-09 and 13 in 2009-10): 34-51-85
November 5th, 2009 – January 18th, 2011 (69 games in 2009-10 and 31 in 2010-11): 30-50-80
Early on, the highs and lows of a young player are evident. Mid-career, production picks up quickly. Even with career years included, amid larger chunks of time, spikes in production are relatively tempered. And, surprisingly enough, in the latter third of his career to this point, Lecavalier has been just about as good as he was at his peak, from a longer-term perspective anyway. (A point total of 290 in games 601-900 versus 293 in games 301-600 speaks strongly to that end.)
No, Vincent Lecavalier will probably never be deemed worthy of the dollar amount on his enviable paycheck, but few players ever are.
There are intangibles to consider – plenty, myself often included, that will tell you he seems far too often a shell of the difference-maker he once appeared, at least, to be – but in keeping with the cold, hard facts that are a player’s statistical history, there really isn’t much to complain about (again, forgetting that pesky salary as best as anyone can. If Tampa Bay’s brass can ever do as much, consider that sort of strategic ignorance a roaring success.)
After 900 games in a Lightning uniform and a career output that equates to roughly 30 goals and 70 points per 82 games played in that time frame, the facts are in the numbers and, if that can be kept in mind, just maybe – at some point – consistent reminders of point totals versus dollar amounts from a contract that nobody forced a player to sign will finally subside.
(My expectations, so far as that goes, remain heavily tempered.)
Congrats to the Lightning captain on 900 and here’s to many, many more.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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