MONTREAL – Even Vincent Lecavalier had no idea what he was walking in to.
Sure, the Tampa Bay Lightning captain knew fans of the Montreal Canadiens had already started dreaming of what life might be like with him in the bleu, blanc et rouge. And of course, the veteran expected to be in the spotlight during all-star weekend in his hometown.
But the scene that greeted Lecavalier’s arrival at Trudeau International Airport still came as a surprise.
“When I walked through those doors and saw the hundreds of people there for autographs and waiting for the players arrive – my hair was all over the place, and I really didn’t expect to have it,” he said Friday. “I don’t think anybody expected to have a welcome like that.”
Just imagine what would happen if he was ever actually traded to the Habs.
As recently as this summer, that notion seemed completely ridiculous. It looked like Lecavalier would be part of the Lightning for life when he signed an 11-year contract extension and was handed back the captain’s C.
However, an unstable few months in Florida culminated with Lecavalier’s name surfacing in trade rumours. The team was on a Western road swing at the time but the fervour reached its peak across the continent in Montreal.
“It was a pretty hectic couple of days,” said Lecavalier. “Usually there’s rumours, but this one seemed that it had a lot of legs.”
Never mind that Lightning GM Brian Lawton held a press conference to try and quiet things down – once the idea was out there, it became impossible to ignore or forget.
The only expectation Lecavalier has about the situation is that he’ll be notified before any deal is made. If that ends up happening before the March 4 trade deadline, he seems pretty warm to the idea of joining the Habs.
“I grew up here,” said Lecavalier. “I’ve always loved the Montreal Canadiens. It’s a great organization, it’s a great town. My family’s from here, I’ve got a lot of friends here.
“I’ve always said … it would be a dream place to come and play for.”
It’s hard to blame him for being curious.
Even though Lecavalier won a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004, things have been considerably less rosy of late. The team finished dead last in the NHL a year ago and saw coach Barry Melrose fired after just 16 games this season.
There have also been rumours that new owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie might be in financial trouble.
In Montreal, the Habs are celebrating their centennial season and look to be among the contenders in the Eastern Conference. Lecavalier referred to the culture around the team as a “religion” on several occasions while speaking in both English and French on Friday.
It’s the kind of environment he believes he could thrive in.
“For someone being born here, to play here, obviously people add a little bit of pressure,” said Lecavalier. “But I think a good pressure.”
No matter what happens in the weeks and months ahead, Lecavalier will live out at least one boyhood dream this weekend.
As a member of the Eastern Conference all-stars, he will occupy a stall in the home locker-room at the Bell Centre.
“To be getting dressed in the Canadiens room is something I always wanted to see,” he said in French.