Lecavalier excited to help out Canadiens as special adviser

Lecavalier excited to help out Canadiens as special adviser

Vincent Lecavalier has an autographed photo of himself as a young boy meeting Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau.

Years later, early in his NHL career, he met Beliveau again, and then once more in Montreal during the 2009 NHL All-Star Weekend.

“To really see the gentleman that he (was), it was just an honor to meet him,” Lecavalier said Friday, introduced upon his hiring as the Canadiens’ special adviser to hockey operations.

“To meet a legend of the Montreal Canadiens, the most humble, just the good person. When you hear some things sometimes about an player, it doesn’t always pan out that way. But with him, it was like, ‘Wow, that’s exactly how he was described, that’s exactly how he is.’ To look up to a person like him, I think it made me maybe a better player and try to be a better leader.”

Lecavalier’s admiration and respect for the late Beliveau, a great ambassador whose appeal far transcended hockey, runs generations deep in his family. Jean-Paul Lecavalier, Vincent’s late grandfather, worshipped the Canadiens icon, who won the Stanley Cup 10 times during his Hall of Fame career. 

It’s for that reason Lecavalier wore No. 4 throughout his NHL career, his number retired by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018; it was with great pride that he pulled on a No. 4 Canadiens sweater to play Beliveau in the 2005 film, “The Rocket,” a biopic on Maurice Richard, the Canadiens’ 1940s and ’50s superstar.

“Montreal has always been special to me,” Lecavalier said. “I’ve never played (there), I’ve never been in that organization as a player, but to be part of it right now and to help them out, I’m truly excited. 

There is plenty of help needed. The Canadiens (9-33-7) are last in the NHL this season after reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season. 

They fired general manager Marc Bergevin on Nov. 29, hiring Jeff Gorton as executive vice-president of hockey operations the same day. Kent Hughes was hired as GM on Jan. 19 and Martin St. Louis replaced Dominique Ducharme as coach on Feb 9. 

“The goal has always been the same — it’s to win. And the beauty of it is, you’ve got a guy like Martin St. Louis, Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton,” Lecavalier said. “All these guys want to do their best to bring that team to another level and to be good every year. So for me to be part of that and help them out and, I’m really excited for that. And I think I’ll do a very good job at it.”

There will be a comfort of familiarity. Lecavalier and St. Louis were Lightning teammates for 12 seasons, from 2000-01 through 2013-14, together winning the 2004 Stanley Cup. Hughes is a good friend, having represented Lecavalier as his agent from his second year in the NHL.

No matter the 1,500 miles that separate Montreal from Tampa, where the 41-year-old lives and will work for the Canadiens, this truly is a homecoming. 

Lecavalier was raised on Ile Bizard, about 20 miles northwest of Montreal, the small island home to generations of his family dating back a century and a half to the days that Aime Lecavalier, Vincent’s great-grandfather, farmed the fertile soil.

In 2002, the community recreation center was named Pavilion Vincent Lecavalier in his honor. Two years later, Lecavalier brought the Stanley Cup back to his hometown, having won it that spring with the Lightning. 

Lecavalier was a one-man Cirque du Soleil in Montreal 13 years ago when he arrived for the 2009 NHL All-Star Game festivities held in and around Bell Centre, part of the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Canadiens franchise.

Arriving at a downtown hotel that Jan. 24 with his Eastern Conference teammates, Lecavalier stood alone on a riser in the front of the ballroom, all other players sitting two to a table along the walls. A forest of cameras and dozens of media hung on every bilingual word of the tall, lean superstar who wore jeans, a sweater and a sheepish grin, blinking into the TV lights.

Rumors were swirling that the Lightning might be ready to trade Lecavalier, Montreal a prime destination. The topic was so hot that a few reporters on the Canadiens beat flew to Florida to investigate every lead. 

“It’s basically like a religion here,” Lecavalier said of the Canadiens that day, having been met at the airport by hundreds of autograph-seekers, every one of them hoping he soon would be wearing a Montreal jersey. 

“Everybody loves the Canadiens. For someone who’s born here, to play here would add a little bit of pressure. But good pressure. It’s a great town, a great organization. I’ve always said that for a lot of Montreal players, it would be a dream place to play.”

There would be no trade to Montreal. Lecavalier would finish the 2008-09 season, then play four more for the Lightning before finishing his career with the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings. With Tampa Bay, he would win the 2006-07 Maurice Richard Trophy with an NHL-leading 52 goals. 

Now, Lecavalier embraces joining the Canadiens, seeing this opportunity as indeed a long-distance return home, linked with another No. 4 who was, and in some ways, remains a role model.

Photos: Hockey Hall of Fame; Getty Images

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