Shortly after free agent Dave Andreychuk signed with the Lightning in July 2001, the graybeard left wing instituted a team policy: Walking on the pristine silver-and-white Tampa Bay logo emblazoned in the center of the dressing room's deep-blue carpet was prohibited and punishable by a $50 fine. With roughly 100 square feet of prime real estate off limits (the trespassing fees go toward an end-of-season party), players and even coach John Tortorella can be seen stumbling around the perimeter of the room in a kind of awkward ballet.
Redirecting dressing-room traffic is just one way the 40-year-old Andreychuk, now the Lightning captain and a veteran of 22 NHL seasons, has given a collective hotfoot to what was a complacent, downtrodden team. Before Andreychuk's arrival Tampa Bay bore the low expectations of a franchise that had had just one winning season since entering the NHL in 1992. "He changed the culture in that locker room," says general manager Jay Feaster, whose club has been in the playoffs for two straight years.
Adds 24-year-old center Brad Richards, "He brought credibility to the room and accountability to the players. It's been totally different since he's been here."
As a result, a quest that Andreychuk began 10 years before the Lightning joined the league may finally be fulfilled: No active player has appeared in more regular-season and playoff games (1,747) without winning the Stanley Cup than Andreychuk. With the Eastern Conference finals tied at one game apiece after the Flyers' 6-2 win on Monday night, Tampa Bay was three wins away from the Cup finals.
Gifted with soft hands and trigger-quick wrists, Andreychuk, who has built Hall of Fame credentials despite a skating style generously described as plodding, has undergone a reinvention of his own since joining the Lightning. One of the most consistent scorers in league history—he's the league's alltime leader in power-play goals (270), ranks 11th in total goals (634) and has had more 20-goal seasons (19) than anyone but Gordie Howe (22) and Ron Francis (20)—he has become an expert in the game's overlooked arts: taking face-offs, blocking shots, killing penalties and checking top players.
A team defined by the flash and dash of young standouts Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier is propped up by the mettle of Andreychuk, a player with scars older than some of his teammates. "He slips under the radar because you're so worried about other people," says Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock. "But at the end of the night he's played on all the power plays, taken all the key face-offs, killed all the penalties and been out there in the first and last minutes of the game. He's a real heart-and-soul guy."
To his friskier teammates, Andreychuk's willingness to throttle back his offensive impulses has had more impact than Tortorella's constant pleas for them to play a two-way game. Andreychuk is also a buffer between the hyperintense coach and a young club that at times doesn't know what to make of Tortorella's tantrums. The staff relies on Andreychuk to make sure its messages are heard. Conversely, Andreychuk and veteran center Tim Taylor are brave enough to tell Tortorella to chill out when he loses his temper behind the bench. Says associate coach Craig Ramsay, "We might not have solved some of the problems we've had without David."
"When I got here, there was offensive talent, but those players had to realize there are two ends of the rink," Andreychuk says. "My offense isn't needed as much as it was in the past." That doesn't mean you can keep a good scorer down. After a slow start this season—he says it took him two months to recover from Tortorella's grueling training camp—Andreychuk scored 15 goals in Tampa's final 43 games to finish with 21 on the year. In the Lightning's 3-1 series-opening win last Saturday, he scored the first goal with a nifty play in front of Flyers goalie Robert Esche, wristing the puck into the top corner from a few feet out. "He just keeps going," says Ramsay. "And the way he skates, you can say he hasn't lost a step."