Thursday, March 6, 2014

Love On The Rocks - Marty St. Louis is Gone

I know it hurts now.  You thought he would be around forever.  You thought every morning you woke up he would still be there.  Fourteen years is a lifetime.  You thought you knew everything about him, that he cared for you as much as you cared for him.  Yet here you are, the morning after, eyes red and puffy from crying, a discarded pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream lying by the bed.  Shredded pictures of better times cover the floor while angry posts litter your Facebook timeline.  Face it Lightning fan - you are acting like a jilted lover.

Now, of course, I don’t mean all of you.  I have seen some sensible posts about the biggest deadline deal in recent Lightning history. However, throughout yesterday’s trading bonanza there was a lot of name calling going on in regards to Marty St. Louis and his trade to the Rangers.  “Cry Baby” “Diva”  “Quitter”.  All those words and more floated across the internet.  I understand, anger is a justifiable emotion.  It’s also the first step to recovery.  Trust me, understanding and forgiveness are right around the corner.

This saga has dragged out in the open air for almost two months now.  Whispers started around the time that St. Louis was initially left off of the Canadian Olympic roster.  That’s when the question of “How would he be able to co-exist with Steve Yzerman after being snubbed?” first arose.  Then the firestorm was ignited by Boomer Easison of all people who tweeted out that the Rangers had a deal in place to trade their captain, Ryan Callahan, and that St. Louis was one of the possible pieces coming back. That led to the story that St. Louis had asked Mr. Yzerman to trade him and the internet flaming was on.

During the whole time there was a lingering question that bothered me.  Why would St. Louis, who had spent his entire career with the reputation as a team-first, heart-and-soul of the Lightning player be so adamant about wanting out.  Why now, when the team was poised to make a run at the Stanley Cup?

Sure pride had something to do with it. Having his own GM say he wasn’t initially worthy of playing for gold had to hurt, but is that enough to turn your back on a community that wholly embraced you like few athletes ever have been in this market?  He was the underdog that brought respectability to a market that is often mocked on the national level. We loved him for that.  There has to be more to it.  Both Mr. Yzerman and St. Louis have alluded to it.

In his press conference after the deadline, Mr. Yzerman acknowledged that St. Louis had come to him before the Olympic debacle and asked to be traded.  He refused to elaborate saying that he didn’t want to "put words into Marty's mouth".  Marty didn’t offer any details either just a vague “this is a decision that is best for my family” comment in a letter released to the media and fans.

Maybe in the future we will know the whole story and it will make sense.  What doesn’t make sense is bashing a guy who has done more for this team than anyone else who ever skated in the black/blue/silver/white/lightning-sleeved uniform. He is responsible for the most exciting moment in the history of the organization (Yo Fedotenko Imma let you finish, but Game 6 double overtime was a better moment).

He also piled up points and accolades unseen by any Lightning player to date.  Two Art Ross trophies, three Lady Byngs, a Hart Memorial and Lester B. Pearson award to go along with multiple all-star appearances.  No one has ever done that for the team.  His conditioning and work ethic were talked about by everyone who coached him, played with him and played against him. This is the same player who played 499 consecutive games before a broken face knocked him out of the line-up.  A broken face that kept him out for exactly five games. Incidentally, the shooter of the puck that hit him in the face - Dominic Moore.  One of his new teammates in New York - Dominic Moore.  Keep that shield on Marty.

Yup, I added the broken face part so I could repost this bad photoshop.

No matter what line he was thrown on he thrived, and made those players better.  He had no issue bouncing back and forth between lines with Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos.  When Stamkos went down this season St. Louis found himself on a line with two rookies.  Is it a coincidence that both of the rookies could win the Calder?

My point is that no matter how he left, what he did on the ice outweighs any controversy that has arisen over the last three months.  When athletes who are fueled by pride come to the end of their career it always ends awkwardly.  Johnny Unitas was traded to the Chargers at the end of his career because he thought he could still play. Does that diminish his legacy in Baltimore? Hell no.  Neither does Willie Mays stumbling around awkwardly in a Mets uniform or Emmitt Smith getting blown up in the backfield as a member of the Arizona Cardinals.

This is just so weird looking.

St. Louis’ exit from the Lightning was always going to be ugly.  Whether it was by the team releasing him, not re-signing him, or a trade request orchestrated by the team instead of the player it was going to end badly. There was going to be a time when the organization felt that there was a better option than him playing for them and at that time St. Louis was going to disagree with them.  What happened this winter just expedited the process.

In my last post I wrote that it was more likely that Mr. Yzerman was more likely to trade him in the off-season as he didn’t want to hurt the team.  Apparently I had misjudged (shocking I know) the depth of the problem.  With the handicaps that he was dealing with, the general manager swung the best deal possible.  I don’t see them signing Ryan Callahan for the money he’s asking for, but for the next 20 games or more he should help them defensively as he moves between the second and third line (according to the Tribune’s Erik Erlendsson he was taking rushes on the second line with Filppula and Kucherov).

More important are the draft picks.  The 2015 first round pick could be gold (especially if the Rangers self-destruct next season) while the other pick has the potential to reach the first round if the Rangers make it to the Eastern Conference finals this season.  The deal also gives Mr, Yzerman about $5 million extra next season to sign a plethora of restricted free agents.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few of the younger players sign multi-year deals over the next couple of months now that he has some more cap room to play with.

Finally lets address the playoff comment.  You know the one that was tweeted about, “It’s not like I’ve played a ton of playoff hockey in the last little while and as you get older you want to get more kicks at the can…”  Some are taking that as St. Louis thinking that the Rangers are better set than the Lightning to be playoff contenders for the near future.  I don’t see it that way.

If the ultimate goal of this move was family based, then the Rangers are the only team that makes sense for him to be asked to be traded to.  There are a handful of teams that would be considered close to his Connecticut home. The Islanders are a mess (although a Tavares/ St. Louis line would be fun to watch) and not knocking on the playoff door anytime soon.  The Devils are better off than the Islanders, but still a team in flux that seems to be wanting to jettison older players and is going through their own rebuild.  As for the Bruins, St. Louis has to be smart enough to know there is no way in hell that Mr. Yzerman was going to trade him there. Thus his request to be transferred to the Rangers.

So, to me, the “more kicks at the can” is more of a disparaging comment about the Islanders and Devils then it is at the Lightning. And as a Lightning fan you can’t argue with the first half of the statement since, other than the 2010-11 season, the team has been playing more golf than hockey in April, May and June.

Martin St. Louis, at this moment in time, is the best player to have ever pulled on a Lightning sweater. At some point Steven Stamkos or Jonathan Drouin or Teddy Purcell will eclipse him (probably not Teddy Purcell). To me that is more important than how he departed the organization.  He has not “tarnished” his legacy with the team.  Sometime in the near future, he will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.  The stories told of him on that day will not be about his days as a Ranger or whatever team he plays for when the Rangers trade him next season.  Those stories will be about what he did on the ice as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

So, Lightning Fans, take a deep breath.  Focus on the team that we have now. Let Marty go do his thing. We are in a better place for having him to love and him leaving, then for us to have never had him at all.

RIP MVP Line Forever

1 comment:

shoeboxlegends said...

Great post, very well written, I enjoyed it and (although I'm not a Lightning fan) agree with your take on it.