TAMPA, Fla. - Think about what Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have meant to the Phillies. Now think of them going to another team and then returning to face the Phils at Citizens Bank Park.
That's the emotional scenario that awaits veteran center Vinny Lecavalier.
A hero and captain with Tampa Bay, Lecavalier and the Flyers (10-11-2) will face the Lightning (15-8-1) Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"One of the first things I looked at when we got the schedule this year was, 'When do we go to Tampa?' " Lecavalier told reporters before the Flyers' practice on Tuesday. "It's definitely going to be very weird . . . to actually play against the Lightning. It's going to be a special night and I'm really excited about it."
Lecavalier spent the first 14 years of his career with Tampa Bay and helped the Lightning win a Stanley Cup in 2004. The Lightning bought out the remaining seven years of their captain's contract last summer, and 10 teams courted him. He picked the Flyers, signing a five-year, $22.5 million deal as an unrestricted free agent.
"Changing teams is obviously an adjustment, but it was pretty easy because there's a pretty good bunch of guys here," said Lecavalier, who lives in Haddonfield but plans to retire to Tampa when his playing days end.
During Wednesday's game, Lecavalier will be honored as the Lightning's community hero and a video tribute will be shown on the scoreboard. He has donated millions to Tampa charities, and his foundation built a pediatric cancer and blood disorder center that bears his name at a St. Petersburg children's hospital.
Lecavalier, 33, said when he returned to his Tampa home last summer after signing with the Flyers, "it really kind of hit me that I'm not going back. It was tough because it was 14 really fun years, but you have to move on. I'm really happy where I'm at and where the family is at."
That said, he still has ties to Tampa.
"My family is there. My sister lives there. My parents are there in the winter," he said.
Lecavalier, who, along with Matt Read, leads the Flyers with eight goals, was asked if he felt rejuvenated and had something to prove with the Flyers.
"You're on a different team, different teammates, different organization. Yeah, of course," he said. "But at the same time, I try to have that mentality every year. Even though you've been there for a lot of years, there's young guys who are good players and as the captain of that [Tampa] team, I wanted to help out as much as I could. I put pressure on myself to get better and better. It doesn't change here. The motivation is definitely really high. Every year is different, but I motivate myself to be as good as I can be."
Lecavalier was 23 when the Lightning won the Cup in 2004. He helped a young franchise establish strong NHL roots.
"Three ownerships and lots of ups and downs," he said of his Tampa days. "After that Stanley Cup, I think that fan base got bigger and bigger every year."
The memories of the 2004 Cup is "something I'll have for the rest of my life," he said. "It was a great year, and we'll have a reunion and I'll see the guys from that team. It gives you a taste. You get one and want to win another one."
Lecavalier called the Flyers a "storied" franchise. He was asked to compare their fans to those in Tampa.
"It's a great hockey market . . . a great sports market," he said. "They definitely let you know, the good and bad - which is good and which I like. I really feel, Tampa as well, took it to another level. I enjoy Philadelphia. You get on the ice for warm-ups and already half the building is there or more. I mean, it's a great feeling to go out there and play in front of these fans."