Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Marty era draws to sad close

He was always one of the smallest players on the ice.

How then can the departure of Marty St. Louis leave such a large hole?

The Lightning not only traded away the best player in its history Wednesday, it traded away a good chunk of its heart and a pound of its soul.

It traded away Marty Time, those precious moments when the game was ticking away and St. Louis would sweep in from the far reaches of the ice to save the day. It traded away grit and passion and fire. It traded away the best part of its history, and the closest link the team and the fans have ever had.

Most of all, it traded away much of its identity.

And you wonder: Will the fans ever forgive St. Louis for forcing such a day?

Marty is a Ranger. This feels wrong. This feels awful. This feels like a betrayal by the player you trusted the most.

Did it really have to come to this? Sure, St. Louis was ticked when he didn't make the original list of players on the Canadian hockey team. But he did make it, and his gold medal was just as shiny as anybody's.

Here's something, though. Yzerman said Wednesday that St. Louis and he had talked about a trade even before the Olympics came along. Yes, the omission had something to do with it, but it doesn't sound like it had everything to do with it. St. Louis had toyed with the idea of relocating north before.

Still, if the Olympic slight had something to do with hurrying St. Louis' decision along, it will be hard for many to understand. As fans, we are all used to seeing sloppy endings in sports. But it is seldom because a team's captain decides, in the middle of a playoff run, he would rather play somewhere else.

In the end, we may never fully know why that team seemed more appealing to St. Louis than this one. If it was the Olympic slight, did that matter more than the role St. Louis had as captain of this team? Did it matter more than the bond he had built with all of those fans whose children wore his jersey.

St. Louis could have stopped all of this. He had a no-move clause in his contract. He could have been angry at Yzerman every day for the rest of his life — he wouldn't be the first player who didn't like his general manger — and still, he could have been here for his teammates and his fans.

But, evidently, he could not bear to play here any longer. What a shame for him. What a shame for you. What a shame for the Lightning. No matter what else you think of St. Louis, part of his legacy will be that he was Captain Opt-Out, the guy who skated away.

It's a shame. For a very long time, we thought of St. Louis as ours, you know.

With St. Louis, it was his style, his speed, his relentlessness, his competitiveness that struck a chord with the fans of Tampa Bay. It was his attitude that was never going to slow down and never going to back away.

Until now.

Until this.

When you think of all of that, you wonder: Did the Lightning get enough for him?

Don't get me wrong. There is a reason that Ryan Callahan was the captain of the Rangers. He's a good player, even if he turns out only to be a rental. But he isn't St. Louis, and he isn't capable of the same impact for the Lightning down the stretch. (If he was, the Rangers wouldn't have thrown in extra draft picks.) And there is still a possibility that he will leave for free agency after the season.

The Lightning has all of 20 games to go in this playoff run. Don't you think Marty might have affected, say, four of them? Six? Certainly, it could be a significant enough number to affecting the seeding of the Lightning as the team goes forward.

The Lightning is a different team today. It has a different feel. And the players in the room have a view of an empty locker.

Yeah. That was where Marty dressed, back when he used to play here.

What a shame it was that it had to end.

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