CRAIG BERUBE finally seems willing to hit the reset button with Vinny Lecavalier, after the veteran forward spent 19 days and seven games stewing as a healthy scratch.
Berube would not totally commit to the lineup change for tonight's seemingly must-win game against Florida, but the coach hinted at the possibility. Tonight is the Flyers' last home game in 2014 before an eight-game odyssey that could make or break their season.
Lecavalier, 34, has not played since Nov. 29 against the Rangers.
If Berube does use the 405-goal scorer, he says he is committed to putting Lecavalier in the best possible position to succeed.
That includes playing his natural center position, skating more than 5 minutes per game, and being positioned with skilled players.
"I like the lines as they are, I don't know what I'll do," Berube said. "But I have to give him opportunities, whether it's power play or whatever. If I bring him in, I'm going to bring him in the middle of the ice. I definitely want to get him more than [5 minutes] for sure. I'm going to try to get him, obviously, more ice time than that."
After yesterday's practice, Lecavalier was joined in the locker room by his son, Gabriel, and daughter, Victoria. The two Lecavalier toddlers giggled with their dad, switching effortlessly between French and English in conversation, learning about equipment and shooting balls of tape at the trash can.
For a moment or two, it seemed as if Lecavalier was savoring the experience, practicing spelling out his last name on his locker's nameplate in English, maybe wondering how many more opportunities he would have to show his children life as an NHL player.
Or, at the very least, his kids were a diversion from what has been the most trying month of his illustrious career.
What changed between now and earlier in the week, when Berube didn't seem open to using Lecavalier again?
"His work ethic was really noticeable," Berube said. "I thought the beginning of the year, he was skating really well, too. I'm noticing that skating again. He does make plays. He can score. He looks hungry to me and he wants in there. That's a good sign."
Maybe, just maybe, Berube and his boss - Ron Hextall - realized there is no quick fix. Hextall gave Lecavalier's agent, Kent Hughes, carte blanche to find a trade partner last summer. Presumably, that option didn't disappear, especially not during the last few weeks.
Lecavalier told the Daily News 2 weeks ago he has no interest in retiring, that he would like to honor the 3 years and $10.5 million remaining on his deal after this season.
With a no-movement clause and a $4.5 million cap hit, getting Lecavalier playing again was really the only option to try and salvage his ill-advised deal with the Flyers.
Berube made it a point to announce that he "does not have a bad relationship" with Lecavalier and that lines of communication are indeed open.
"He's a good player," Berube said. "The team and Vinny need to work together to find a place for him that works."
Craig Berube said he was not considering any changes to his defense for tonight's game against Florida. That means Michael Del Zotto will be a healthy scratch for the sixth time in eight games . . . Berube turned 49 yesterday. He is the NHL's sixth youngest coach . . . Steve Mason will "probably" start against Florida, according to Berube . . . Yesterday's practice was optional. Braydon Coburn did not participate after an awkward spill into the boards, but Berube said Coburn was "fine" . . . The Panthers and Flyers have split this season's series.
"That's a lot of shooters, boy. I would've even gotten a shot in that one."
- Craig Berube, on Florida's epic, 20-round shootout win over the Capitals on Tuesday. The win, which slid the Panthers into a wild-card playoff spot, was the longest shootout in NHL history, surpassing a 15-round battle of wills between the Rangers and Capitals on Nov. 26, 2005.