It's easy to feel sorry for onetime superstar Vinny Lecavalier, the classy 34-year-old Flyers forward who is finishing the most disappointing season of his 16-year career.
Oh, he is being well-compensated, but when you have made as much money as Lecavalier, pride trumps dollars.
And make no mistake, Lecavalier's pride has taken a major hit with the way coach Craig Berube has used him. That is, when he hasn't been a healthy scratch.
Despite the embarrassment of being benched 17 times on an offensively challenged team, Lecavalier, who turns 35 next month, isn't considering retirement. He trains as hard as anyone in the offseason, and he looks at how veterans Joe Thornton, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg, and Mike Ribeiro are producing and thinks he can still be effective.
"Honestly, I believe in myself," he said a few days ago. "It's obviously a tough situation, but I believe in what I can do. No matter what reason, it was a tough year, but I still feel I have a lot left in the tank."
Lecavalier was considered a strong Hall of Fame candidate when the Flyers signed him to a five-year, $22.5 million deal in 2013. But his Hall chances have been reduced during a two-year stint with the Flyers in which he has produced a total of 27 goals, including seven this season.
In recent weeks, the guy with 410 career goals has been benched in favor of three players who started the season with the AHL Phantoms and Zac Rinaldo, among others.
In other words, Lecavalier is not Berube's type of player.
"He just hasn't produced, and he gets power-play time, too," said Berube, who was forced to put Lecavalier back in the lineup Saturday because Wayne Simmonds' leg injury left the Flyers with just 12 healthy forwards.
Lecavalier, who entered Saturday without a goal in a career-worst 26 straight games, is not the same player he was in Tampa Bay. He seems slower, and Berube has shifted him from center to wing because the coach thinks Lecavalier doesn't get back quick enough on defense. Lecavalier counters that he is as fast as he was with the Lightning and that speed was never a major component of his game.
A year ago, he managed 20 goals in 69 games while playing out of position at left wing. With the Flyers struggling mightily to score goals this season, Lecavalier deserved a chance to center the second line for more than a few games and to have some quality wingers at his side. He should have been given an opportunity to see what he has left. If he didn't produce, well, at least you knew what you had . . . and it would have made an offseason buyout a reasonable consideration.
Instead, Lecavalier was benched or used at right wing, primarily on the fourth line. He hasn't centered the second line since Nov. 6 and has been a healthy scratch 17 times. Before this season, he had never been a healthy scratch in his career.
"It's been a tough year, especially the first time I got scratched," he said. "But overall last year was a tough year, too, playing out of position."
Lecavalier, who carries an expensive $4.5 million cap hit, was nearly traded last summer to Nashville.
In Berube's defense-first system, Lecavalier is a square peg in a round hole. So the 6-foot-4, 215-pound veteran bites his lip, hard, and plays the role of good soldier.
It's not easy. After Tampa Bay bought out the remainder of his 11-year, $85 million deal in 2013, Lecavalier had free-agent offers from around the NHL. He chose the Flyers because Peter Laviolette's attacking system fit his style of play.
"When I signed here, I looked at all the coaches I wanted to go see, and after I met Lavy, he was right on top of the list," said Lecavalier, who is on Tampa Bay's payroll until he is 47.
Three games into Lecavalier's first season with the Flyers, Laviolette was fired and replaced by Berube.
Berube will likely be replaced after this season. One of the new coach's jobs will be to get Lecavalier back on track.
The Flyers also may consider buying out the last three years of Lecavalier's contract. He will be owed a total of $10.5 million, and the Flyers would have to pay him two-thirds of his contract, with the cap hit spread over six seasons.
Lecavalier was centering the second line when he broke his left foot in the third game and missed the next seven games.
"I was very excited at the beginning of the year, starting out in the middle," he said. "I thought I was producing, and then you get hurt, and I was put back where I was the year before. It is what it is, but I still feel I can come back from this. I feel strong, mentally, and that's the most important thing right now. . . . The first time I didn't play, in San Jose, I was really down. It was tough. It was tough for me, tough for the family, but right now, honestly, I feel mentally strong that when I do get a chance . . . I'm really motivated for that."
Lecavalier went out of his way not to criticize Berube.
"There's nothing I can do. They put out the players they think will win games, and it's their decision," he said. "But I still feel I can still produce and help this team."
If a new coach is named, he will probably get that chance.
Season Team GP G A P
1998-1999 Lightning 82 13 15 28
1999-2000 Lightning 80 25 42 67
2000-2001 Lightning 68 23 28 51
2001-2002 Lightning 76 20 17 37
2002-2003 Lightning 80 33 45 78
2003-2004 Lightning 81 32 34 66
2005-2006 Lightning 80 35 40 75
2006-2007 Lightning 82 52 56 108
2007-2008 Lightning 81 40 52 92
2008-2009 Lightning 77 29 38 67
2009-2010 Lightning 82 24 46 70
2010-2011 Lightning 65 25 29 54
2011-2012 Lightning 64 22 27 49
2012-2013 Lightning 39 10 22 32
2013-2014 Flyers 69 20 17 37
2014-2015 Flyers 52 7 11 18
TOTALS 1,158 410 519 929