Lecavalier, Leafs nearly were a pair

SCOTT MORRISON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

On the same day the woeful Maple Leafs were at their innovative best, discovering yet another way to lose, this time to the Boston Bruins, it was announced that the NHL's first star of the week was Vincent Lecavalier.

The talented and tough Tampa Bay Lightning centre had a streak of eight games with multiple points, including a career-best five points against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Authorities of the calibre of Don Cherry and Scott Bowman have said Lecavalier -- who led the NHL in scoring with 34 points entering last night -- might be the best player in the NHL. The kid scores goals, is a good playmaker and isn't afraid to drop the gloves to add an exclamation point when necessary. He is the complete package, a true superstar.

So the Leafs lose and Lecavalier wins first star honours. At first glance, the two pieces of business seem entirely unrelated, but any Leaf fan with a keen memory and a broken heart undoubtedly was left to shake his head and wonder, yet again, what might have been.

It was back in December 2001 that Lecavalier and Lightning coach John Tortorella were butting heads. It was a bad time for the youngster, then just 21 and in his third NHL season. The Lightning general manager, Rick Dudley, had supported his coach but also agreed to explore the trade market to see what he might be able to fetch for Lecavalier.

Dudley didn't expect to be overwhelmed by the offers, but teams were stepping up with quality packages for Lecavalier, a former first choice overall who had just 28 points in his rookie season and 67 points the next, and was considered something of a brooder.

Speculation was that the San Jose Sharks had made the best offer, but quietly the Leafs had snuck under the radar with a considerable offer. The Leafs, then under the direction of GM/coach Pat Quinn and assistant Bill Watters, offered defenceman Tomas Kaberle, wingers Nik Antropov and Jonas Hoglund and either Brad Boyes, whom they had selected first in 2000, or a first-round draft pick in 2002.

Dudley liked the offer enough to fly it by upper management and the owner, who declared they would not trade Lecavalier.

"Our scouting staff, Pat Quinn, everybody was so excited at the time because the deal was pretty much done and the media didn't have a sniff of it," Watters told Sun Media's Mike Zeisberger last spring. "It was a deal comparable to the one that brought Mats Sundin to Toronto. Vincent would have been the perfect player to support Mats. And after Mats was gone, this was a guy who could step in and take over."

It is 40 years since the Leafs won a Stanley Cup, and with no heir apparent to Sundin.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, (Alex) Ovechkin, these guys are going to be the best players in the league for the next 15 years," Lecavalier said. "I don't compare myself with these guys. I just play my game, do the best that I can."

What might have been, indeed, Leafs fans.


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