Vincent Lecavalier still plans to retire after 17-year career

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Vincent Lecavalier intends to retire this summer, ending his 17-year NHL career after one last revitalizing season with the Los Angeles Kings.

Lecavalier confirmed his long-stated plans Sunday as the Kings left their training complex. Their season ended Friday, when the San Jose Sharks eliminated them in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series.

"It's the same plan since I first got here a few months ago,'' Lecavalier said. "Getting a chance to play on this team, and obviously we didn't get to go where we wanted to go at the end of it, but to get a chance to play and to have fun and to learn is just a great time.''

The 36-year-old forward scored 949 points and won the Stanley Cup during a career that began with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who made him the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft. A dangerous scorer with a physical presence on the ice, he won the Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal-scorer while racking up a career-high 108 points during the 2006-07 season.

He signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2013, but struggled mightily with his new team. He eventually spent long stretches as a healthy scratch, and he decided to retire earlier this season.

"Back in November, I was [thinking], 'I think I'm going to be stuck here,''' Lecavalier said.

Instead, he agreed to a trade in January to the Kings, who offered him playing time on a contending team. He had 10 goals and seven assists in 42 games while playing a valuable two-way role for Los Angeles.

"I always had that confidence deep down that I could still do well, so it was great,'' Lecavalier said. "It was a great team, and I know they're going to win again, just by the way they act and by the leadership group and the talent they have.''

Lecavalier began his career with then-Lightning owner Art Williams burdening him with impossible expectations, labeling him "the Michael Jordan of hockey.'' Still, he became Tampa Bay's career leader in goals (383) and games (1,037). He was a four-time All-Star with 13 20-goal seasons.

He excelled as the Kings' third-line center, fitting in well with the veteran team's defense-first mindset. But general manager Dean Lombardi said the Kings were able to fit Lecavalier under their salary cap only because of his plans to retire this summer, making a return next season problematic.

"I think he proved to everybody that he wasn't just going to let the year go by and sit out with nothing to give,'' Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "He came here and gave us everything that we expected, and everything we've asked for. He's been a great addition at the deadline for us. I think we made his stay around here pretty comfortable, too.''

Lecavalier, a Montreal-area native, expects to settle back in the Tampa area with his wife, Caroline, and three young children, likely soon after his oldest child finishes the school year in Los Angeles. He has no firm plans beyond parenthood for life after hockey, but is interested in boosting the sport in Florida.

He beamed at the memory of the kind words said by both the Sharks and the Kings in the post-series handshake line at Staples Center.

"A few guys were really nice about it,'' Lecavalier said. "A couple of guys [said], 'Well, keep playing!' It was great. Some guys said they watched my career, the younger guys over there.

"I've had a lot of good moments. One of the best is winning the Cup, but to get a second chance at playing when you think you might not play again was great. This was just a really good experience for me, the last three or four months.''