LOS ANGELES - Vinny Lecavalier thought this would be over by now.
The 405-goal scorer was never expecting to be a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. He was on Tuesday in San Jose, but figured he'd get a crack at redemption after that last-second loss.
"I definitely thought after a game, I'd come back in," Lecavalier said. "I guess [coach Craig Berube] didn't want me back in the lineup."
After all, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Andrew MacDonald were given a game to get their heads straight and then were promptly reinserted.
Even Luke Schenn and Michael Del Zotto, who were scratched in consecutive games, never lingered on the shelf for longer than two games.
Lecavalier, 34, sat out all three games in California. Only Blair Jones, Jason Akeson and Carlo Colaiacovo have been benched for longer periods this season. Jones and Akeson already have been sent to the AHL; Colaiacovo was signed as a spare defenseman.
"It's been a really tough week," Lecavalier told the Daily News yesterday before boarding the Flyers' plane to Columbus. "I've tried to stay positive. I want to get better. I want to feel better about this. I think the only way you can do that is to get back and play games."
Where do the Flyers and Lecavalier go from here?
The situation is untenable, at best. The catch is that Lecavalier has another three seasons remaining after this one at $4.5 million per year.
Not long after he was scratched, a report from TSN's Darren Dreger last week said "some think Lecavalier wants to retire after next season to focus on family" and he would be willing to leave $6 million on the table.
Yesterday, Lecavalier denied that claim and said he intends to honor his deal.
"No," Lecavalier said bluntly. "I'm 34, I'm not 40. I feel good on the ice. I feel like I did 5 years ago. All of the sudden, I'm a healthy scratch. It's frustrating. I know I have a lot in the tank. I know what I can provide on the ice, and I know what I bring off the ice with my teammates."
General manager Ron Hextall gave Lecavalier's agent, Kent Hughes, permission to negotiate a trade this summer for the former league scoring champion. The Flyers would like to move him and it's clear Lecavalier, who holds a full no-movement clause, would accept an opportunity to play elsewhere.
The Flyers could retain up to half ($2.25 million) of Lecavalier's salary-cap hit and also pay half of his remaining salary as part of the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement. That may actually entice a playoff team or two, especially since Lecavalier's actual salary drops off next season to $4.5 million and then $3 million for each of the final 2 years, from the $6 million he's currently earning.
Even in a down year last season, Lecavalier still scored 20 goals. He had four points in his first four games this season, coming off a tremendous training camp.
"It's not easy for anybody. It's a tough situation," Hextall said. "You never want to see that happen to a guy who's done what Vinny's done in his career. We're going to try to give him the respect he merits."
To be clear, money is not the issue for Lecavalier. Whenever he decides to move on, he'll skate away as the highest-paid player in hockey history, with guaranteed earnings of $131.6 million. Sidney Crosby is the only current player with a contract on the books to top that number.
A proud man, Lecavalier understands the impact of Father Time, but he doesn't believe his play has eroded to the point where he needs to be watching from the press box.
"There are always ups and downs in a season. I've had them before," said Lecavalier, who missed games because of a foot injury earlier in the season. "When you come back from injury, sometimes you might not be as sharp as you were before. You've got to battle through it. I actually thought the last couple games were pretty good - there were some games I played as well as before I got injured.
"I am someone who thinks you need to just put the guy out there again and see what he does."
When that opportunity comes again remains to be seen. With a 1-1-1 mark on the Left Coast, the Flyers are coming off their best string of games in nearly a month.
"I don't know what to think," Lecavalier said. "It's not like it's something the coaching staff and I talk about everyday. They told me before the game in San Jose and that was it."
That's led to a lot of soul-searching. Lecavalier spent the week watching both the Flyers' and other games around the league, trying to keep his mind in the game. He said he's also relied heavily on his father, Yvon, to help him through one of the toughest times in his bright career.
"I'm very close with my dad and we've talked a lot about it," Lecavalier said. "I know the team has played pretty well. This obviously isn't the situation I want to be in. I've watched a lot of hockey, it's the only thing I can do besides practice to keep me as game-ready as possible. When I come back, I want to know I've done everything I can."