392-lecavalier080217

Vincent Lecavalier's deal reportedly is worth $77 million US over nine years. ((Adrian Wyld/Associated Press))

The Tampa Bay Lightning reportedly have worked out a nine-year, $77-million US contract extension with superstar centre Vincent Lecavalier.

The Canadian Press was told Wednesday by a source close to the negotiations that the extension will not be announced until July 1, and will not kick in until the 2009-10 NHL season. 

Lecavalier, 28, is due to make $7.167 million US next season in the final year of a four-year, $27.5-million US contract he signed with Tampa Bay on Aug. 16, 2005.

"In other markets, I'm sure he could get more money," Lightning majority owner Oren Koules said. "But he wants to be here."

"From a coach's point of view, this guy is the franchise," Lightning head coach Barry Melrose told reporters during a conference call.

"He has made a huge commitment to stay in Tampa Bay. He could have become a free agent [in July 2009] and went to Montreal and become the highest-paid player in the NHL.

"But he wanted to stay and play in Tampa and make this team great again and challenge again [for the Stanley Cup]. You have to reward a player like that, and the ownership did.

"He is going to be a Tampa Bay Lightning probably until he retires. And Oren and Len [Barrie] and the ownership group felt very, very good about that."

Koules and Barrie met with Lecavalier over the weekend in Montreal.

"We explained our vision of the team and the organization," Koules said. "We look at Vinny - he is a guy that wants to live in Tampa when he is done playing.

"Whenever that is, we want to move him right into an adviser role or be an executive with us. We look at Detroit, and the way they handled Steve Yzerman, and that is what we want to be doing [because] Vinny means a lot to this community."

Lecavalier 'is a winner'

Melrose was effusive in his praise for Lecavalier, who led the Lightning with 40 goals and 92 points last season.

"Vinny has been great," Melrose told CBCSports.ca. "He has won a Cup and proven he is a winner."

"I expect him to be the go-to guy, not just the team's best player. He is already that.

"If we're going to make the playoffs, Vinny putting up big numbers like he did [last] season just isn't enough. It's gotta be a team commitment and, in order to get a team committment, your best players have to lead the charge."

The Lightning finished last in the 30-team NHL with a 31-42-9 record, even with Lecavalier and former Hart Trophy winner Martin St. Louis in the fold.

But Melrose is looking to Lecavalier to help him and the rest of the coaching staff change the culture of the team next season.

"I'll expect him to be our best player every night," Melrose said. "I'll expect him to be the leader in the dressing room.

"I'll expect him to be the hardest-working guy in practice because that's what we need from him. I know he can give that to us."

Captain Lecavalier?

Melrose indicated Wednesday that Lecavalier is his first choice to be named captain at training camp, but he will have to earn it.

"I hope it is Vinny," Melrose said. "That would make my job very, very easy.

"I'm certainly hoping that, when I watch Vinny [at camp] and watch how he plays, that leadership comes through in him. That is one of the things I'm going to be looking for at training camp.

"Who are the guys in our room that are the leaders? Who can I depend on in tough situations? Who is the guy that is going to change the momentum of a game in the third period when we're up by a goal, down by a goal?"

Lecavalier, from Ile-Bizard, Que., native has compiled 273 goals and 602 points in 710 NHL games since he was drafted first overall by Tampa Bay in 1998.

He won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top scorer with 52 goals in 2006-07, and he was the recipient of the King Clancy Trophy for humanitarian and leadership efforts at this year's NHL Awards.

With files from the Canadian Press