TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – The Tampa Bay Lightning signed center Vincent Lecavalier to a four-year deal Tuesday, securing one of their two front-line stars and keeping a key piece of their Stanley Cup championship team.

The Lightning are still attempting to sign NHL MVP and scoring champion Martin St. Louis, but the signing of Lecavalier to a multiyear deal is good news for the defending champs, who could have lost the 25-year-old star next offseason if he became an unrestricted free agent.

“This signing is absolutely huge for the Lightning franchise,” general manager Jay Feaster said.

The signing comes almost two weeks after goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, another leader from their title run, inked a four-year, $27-million contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The former No. 1 overall pick in 1998, Lecavalier owns franchise records in points (327), goals (146) and game-winning goals (20) and needs to play only nine games to surpass Rob Zamuner for most played in a Lightning uniform.

During the team’s Stanley Cup run in 2003-04, Lecavalier had 32 goals and 34 assists in 81 games. In the playoffs, the Ontario native set career high in almost every category and finished with nine goals and seven assists.

He reportedly will earn $27.5 million.

“We are confident that, given his age and his maturation and development, he will only continue to improve and become even more productive and more of a complete, all-around player for this franchise,” Feaster said.

During the lockout last season, Lecavalier played 30 games for AK Bars Kazan in Russia, registering seven goals, nine assists and 78 penalty minutes.

AP-ES-08-16-05 1935EDT

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