The way Lightning teammates describe 37-year-old Marty St. Louis, he sounds a lot like the reverse-aging character from the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
"Everyone kind of feels a little bit older every year," wing Teddy Purcell said. "But I think he's going the opposite way. He just gets younger."
"He's a machine — he's that little ball of fire," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "You'd think he's 22."
Purcell said St. Louis' seemingly eternal youth is evident both on the ice and the dance floor, where St. Louis has some "sneaky dance moves," no matter the music.
"He can adapt to his surroundings," Purcell said. "Like Charles Darwin."
While St. Louis' legendary work ethic and drive helped the undersized (5 feet 9, 177 pounds) and undrafted wing evolve into a league MVP and Stanley Cup champion, he knows the clock is winding down on his impressive career. That's why it was so important to St. Louis that the lockout was lifted Saturday and he won't have to miss another full season (as he did with the work stoppage in 2004-05).
But St. Louis, entering his 14th year, hasn't shown any signs of slowing down in preseason workouts and has made no concessions to Father Time.
"I expect a lot out of myself every year," he said. "And if you start giving yourself excuses, you're just speeding up the process of fading away."
St. Louis has been the definition of consistency, setting a Lightning record with six consecutive 70-point seasons. He has been one of the league's most durable players, with his streak of 499 consecutive games played snapped in December 2011 because of a broken orbital bone.
"You don't realize how hard you have to work until you watch a guy like Marty," teammate Steven Stamkos said. "That's why he's been so successful, there's a correlation there."
Stamkos, who has emerged as one of the game's brightest young stars since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2006, lauded St. Louis' impact on his career, noting the four-time All-Star has been his mentor since the beginning.
And though St. Louis' 74 points last season were his fewest since 2005, his playmaking ability on a line with a 60-goal scorer in Stamkos has them both primed for a playoff run.
"I'm trying to keep him young, and he's trying to keep (me) wise," Stamkos said. "It's been a great ride so far, hopefully it's only the beginning and we have a lot of great years ahead of us."
St. Louis boasts 323 goals, and is just 148 points shy of 1,000 in his 931-game career. But it's hard not to wonder what his numbers might have been had the league not canceled the 2005 season. St. Louis had plenty of momentum coming off an MVP year (94 points) and championship.
"That was tough," he said. "We were coming off a Cup year, things had gone pretty well for me that year, so I was excited to get back."
But St. Louis hasn't dwelled on the opportunities missed in the 116 games lost to lockouts.
"Maybe I'll just play an extra year," he said with a smile.
And St. Louis hasn't thought of his place in history or potential Hall of Fame candidacy.
"I don't worry about that now — I'm in the trenches playing," he said. "Everybody can assess my career when I'm done playing. I've played long enough in this league, (you) hope that you can get considered. That's the ultimate honor, to be in the Hall of Fame."
St. Louis has three years left on his contract and said he's "not ready for retirement." How long he plays remains to be seen, but coach Guy Boucher said St. Louis' legacy is already in place.
"This guy has been unbelievable for the organization and the people around him," Boucher said. "I don't know when or how it's going to be recognized, but in my book right now, he's already won."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]