After all these years, is the bond really this brittle? After all these moments, is the ice really this thin?
After all this time together, could Marty St. Louis and the Tampa Bay Lightning be on the verge of skating in opposite directions?
No, you want to scream, a thousand times no. Not over something this petty. Not with this kind of season on the line. Not with the shared history of a team and the most admired player it has ever had.
Yet the trade rumors continue to swirl, and St. Louis will not stop them. St. Louis admitted he was bothered when he was not on the original list of players picked for the Canadian Olympic hockey team. There are reports that, immediately afterward, St. Louis asked to be traded.
Have we now reached the point where only a trade will provide relief for a player and for the team that have spent so long leaning upon each other?
None of this is going to make any sense to the rest of us. There is too much shared success for it to all be tossed aside so easily. St. Louis has shed too much sweat, and his fingerprints are too common over the best days of this franchise, for either side to lose sight of it.
And, yet, there was St. Louis on Wednesday morning, speaking one line, tersely, over and again.
"Steve (Yzerman) and I have spoken about my future,'' St. Louis kept saying, "and we'll keep that between Steve and I.''
There was so much that St. Louis didn't say, so much that he could have said. He is, after all, the captain around here, and as such, he has a responsibility for the direction of the team far beyond what it means to him as an individual.
He could have shrugged and said, "Yeah, it hurt. It'll take some time for all of the wounds to heal. But the Olympics are over now, and I have to help this team get ready for the playoff run.''
Or, he could have winked and said this: "Oh, you guys know how seriously I take this stuff. I can't help it. But the Lightning didn't snub me. My teammates didn't snub me. I'm going to be here for them.''
Or he could have grinned and said, "I think the reason everyone is talking about the Rangers is that I have a house up there. Well, you know where else I have a house? In Tampa Bay.''
St. Louis didn't say any of those things.
At one point, he was told he could make the entire storm disappear with one sentence. All he had to say was he wasn't going anywhere and he had the no-move clause in his contract to make it stick. Just that, and all of the controversy disappears.
And St. Louis wouldn't say it. He simply repeated his line, leaving the implication that, yeah, he was ticked, and no, he isn't over it yet.
Look, I get it. St. Louis is 180 pounds of fierce pride stuffed into a pair of skates. Everyone knows how that eternal chip on his shoulder has driven him to be a star.
It's the reason you see so many kids wearing his jersey in the stands. Around here, St. Louis is the ultimate overachiever. No one has left the fans with as many warm moments as he has.
Given that, you could understand that it would irritate St. Louis to hear it suggested he isn't among the best his country has to offer, especially from his own team's general manager. He has spent too many nights proving the opposite is true.
But you know what? It's time for him to get over it. The Olympics are finished. Everything worked out. St. Louis has the gold medal to prove it.
St. Louis is wrong here. He's wrong to cling so stubbornly to his hard feelings, and he's wrong not to make this team's playoff run the point of any conversation.
The team has paid him too well, the fans have cheered him too hard, and his teammates need him too badly for him to cling to hard feelings.
Now it's about being there for the guys in his locker room and for his team. Oh, if St. Louis wants to be ticked at Yzerman, well, he has a right. But the other guys in the room deserve the full Marty down the stretch. What? Is he going to check out now? Really?
So what happens from here on out? My guess is when the team settles back into its season, very little.
My guess is Yzerman invites St. Louis into a room and the two sit across from each other and talk. Maybe they talk about the Stanley Cup. Maybe St. Louis talks about his 361 goals or his 948 points or his 968 games for the Lightning. Maybe he talks about winning the Hart Trophy or his two Art Rosses or his Ted Lindsay or his three Lady Byngs.
Maybe they talk about the blood he left on the ice along the way. Maybe Yzerman talks about spending so long in one uniform and what it meant to him to finish in it. Maybe St. Louis remembers the story of the Lightning is etched in those lines on his face.
This is what a legacy is. And this is why St. Louis cannot let it slip away so easily.
In the end, no one can be sure what kind of return St. Louis would bring. Even at 38, he still has some jump in his legs, and he could help a lot of contenders. But is the Lightning going to get back a player who would help the team down the stretch as much as St. Louis? That isn't likely.
Ah, but what if the Lightning keeps St. Louis. Would he be able to turn loose of this so he could focus on the task at hand?
I say yes. Again, we are talking about a prideful player here. I cannot imagine him taking a midnight skate in the middle of a game.
There is no way St. Louis would ever be able to look Steven Stamkos or Eric Brewer or Ben Bishop in the eyes again if he had not busted his rump on every shift.
In the end, that's who St. Louis is. It's who he has always been.
No, you don't trade St. Louis.
You trust him.