Through major surgeries, major distractions, major overhauls and 999 career NHL games, Vinny Lecavalier has seen no major changes to the crest he wears on his jersey.
There have been minor tweaks to the colors, the lettering style, even a couple of redesigned logos, but through it all there has been one constant. Ever since Lecavalier was selected first overall in the 1998 draft, the only jersey he has donned has been emblazoned with a Lightning bolt across the front.
So as Tampa Bay's captain takes to the ice this afternoon for a matinee affair at Nassau Coliseum against the New York Islanders, he will appear in his 1,000th regular season game, becoming the 280th player to reach the milestone in league history. And in a rarity of sports these days he will do so all with the same franchise. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Lecavalier will become the 49th player in league history to appear in his 1,000th game with same team.
"It means a lot, it's not something that I think about but it's something that is very special once you are there,'' Lecavalier said. "Next week family and friends are going to be (in Tampa during a ceremony), so that's exciting. And to play for the same team for one-thousand games, that's special.''
Along the way there have been plenty of ups and downs, expectations, distractions and ownership changes. There were enduring trade rumors that had him being shipped to Montreal, Philadelphia, Ottawa or even Los Angeles through the years. There have been last place finishes, a memorable championship run and everything in between.
Once labeled as "the Michael Jordan of hockey'' by one-time owner Art Williams, there is not much Lecavalier hasn't experienced while with the only pro franchise he has ever played for.
"It's been quite a ride,'' Lecavalier said. "It's been about 90 percent great, and there have been a couple of tough years with the trade rumors and maybe we struggled a couple of years, but it's been a great ride. I'm proud to be a part of this organization, to be on the same team for one-thousand games you never think that when you come into the league. You just go year-by-year and game-by-game, and now it's a thousand in that same jersey . . . it definitely flies by.''
Former Lightning assistant coach Adam Oates, now the head coach for Washington, appeared in 1,337 games during his Hall of Fame career but did so with seven different teams.
"That's very unique for guys nowadays to stay in one place,'' said former Lightning assistant and current Washington head coach Adam Oates, who played for several different teams before reaching the 1,000 game milestone. "Good for him, he won a Stanley Cup here, he's been the captain, the catalyst he's been the face of the franchise for a long time and he's done a great job.''
Roman Hamrlik, the first ever draft pick by Tampa Bay when he was selected first overall in 1992, has also been fortunate to pass the 1,000 game milestone which he did as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, one of several organizations he has a played for during his 20-year-career.
"It's a great achievement for him,'' Hamrlik said of Lecavalier. "Hopefully he can play as many games as he can because it's a great honor especially for him plan for one team. It's special when you play so many games for one team, it's incredible.''
Of all the milestones in hockey, Oates believes reaching 1,000 games is right at the top.
"I think it's the best milestone in hockey for any position because that means you had to play for a long time for lot of different coaches, a lot of situations, a lot of contact and be dedicated,'' he said.
But for Lecavalier, who is now his 14th NHL season and won't turn 33 until April, he hopes to keep enjoying the ride in the same place he has always been and perhaps join an exclusive list of 27 current players that have played their entire career with one team while appearing in at least 1,000 games.
"I've always felt like Tampa is home and all these years have flew by,'' Lecavalier said, "but it's been a fun ride and I want to be here for many more years.''