LIKE SOME Wild West bad guy, Vinny Lecavalier roared away from the Flyers Skate Zone in his big black truck, probably for the last time. He even wore a black hat.
Still, his role remained indistinct.
Was he Vinny the Villain . . . or Vinny the Victim?
Professionally, he had undergone a pointless exit interview with head coach Craig Berube. What's the point of a player talking to a coach who has no use for him?
Patiently, he had conducted a farewell interview with an mystified press corps. For 2 years, that press corps couldn't figure out how such a striking figure constantly got lost in the shadows.
As he awaits what seems to be an inevitable buyout after two disastrous seasons, the debate will be: Villain or Victim?
This much is not debatable: Few athletes in Philadelphia history delivered so little at so high a cost.
Lecavalier took home more than $18 million the past two seasons. He scored 28 goals and had 29 assists. He had more goals five times in a single season, and he had more assists eight times in a single season, but that was when he played center.
Berube sees him as a wing.
He was 33 years old when he signed in 2013. Lecavalier played just 126 of 164 games. He missed a bucketful of games with injury issues, but this season he was a healthy scratch 17 times.
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will fire Berube or buy out Lecavalier, or both. Hextall hired neither, and neither was a rousing success. Certainly, they cannot coexist, especially as long as Berube makes Lecavalier play wing.
"I don't think it's going to be difficult [to coexist]," Berube said. "We have to come to some kind of resolution where Vinny understands where I put him and the role he's put in and how he has to contribute to help the hockey team."
However, in his next breath, Berube paints the picture of disharmony.
"He doesn't accept his role. I'm not saying that's an easy thing for him," Berube said, " . . . but at some point, he's going to have to accept his role."
After 2 years, Lecavalier cannot accept it. After 2 years, Berube will not be swayed: "My reasons will stay in the locker room. I don't need to express them to you guys."
That makes no sense - his job in meeting with the press is exactly that, to explain why he does what he does - but maybe Berube doesn't know himself.
Either way, Lecavalier dreads the specter of another season like the last.
"It's fair to say [that]," he said. "I still think I can bring a lot to a team. More than not playing, and sitting on the bench.''
Lecavalier actually managed a ferocious scowl when giving one answer; one that pertained to him still having the "hunger" to play hockey. Elsewhere.
It was, by far, the most passion Lecavalier has shown as a Flyer.
As his playing time dwindled this season, it became ever clearer that Lecavalier's passive nature did not fit Berube's aggressive scheme. Berube could not afford the luxury of letting Lecavalier feel his way into the system. The team was not built for Vinny the Victim.
"You need a little bit of time on the ice. You need opportunities," Vinny the Victim said. "I didn't feel I really got that this year."
That might be true.
What Lecavalier never said was: I should have played harder. I should have played better.
Villain or Victim, healthy or hurt, signing Lecavalier was a bad move.
Consider that Lecavalier's $4.5 million salary-cap hit (cap hit is different from take-home) accounted for about 7 percent of the team's $69 million cap ceiling.
That would be like the Eagles signing an offensive weapon who counted about $9.3 million against their $133 million cap and him missing eight of 32 games, most of them because the coach thought he was lousy.
Hockey is a little different. No sport relies more on chemistry or allows its coach more license to listen to his gut, which is what Berube did.
Berube's gut told him Lecavalier had no heart.
Berube saw a big-money guy who played soft, a faded star who wanted things to come as easily as they had when he was flanked by star talent in Tampa. It's hard to argue Berube's view. A few times this season, Lecavalier admitted, he considered retiring, especially if he could get just one more good season. Yesterday, he said, he would continue to play if he could again be "happy." Sounds soft, doesn't it?
Then again, Berube gave Lecavalier no real chance. He forced Lecavalier, an instinctive center, to play wing. He made a star play with scrubs.
Lecavalier, fading for 5 years, signed with the Flyers because the coach in the summer of 2013, Peter Laviolette, assured Vinny that he would protect him.
"One of the main reasons was to come and play for Lavvy, and his style of play, and what he thought about me," Lecavalier said.
Laviolette was fired three games into Lecavalier's tenure as a Flyer. Berube, flinty and severe, was promoted to be the new sheriff.
"Like any company," Lecavalier acknowledged, "when you get a new boss, things change."
If you don't, and you steal money, you are a Villain . . . who sounds like a Victim.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch