Friday, January 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

It's time to forgive Marty St. Louis

Maybe you're still hurting. Maybe you still feel betrayed.

You see Marty St. Louis skating around with a New York Rangers emblem on his chest and it stings — a bitter cocktail of sadness and anger for how he put down his Lightning sweater and headed off for the bright lights of the big city.

Yeah, well, get over it.

It's time. It's time to put aside your bitterness and bury your hate. It's time to forgive and forget. It's time. Do it now and there still is time to appreciate what you might be missing.

The improbable NHL career of the Little Skater Who Could became even more remarkable over the past week.

Don't miss this moment. Don't miss these kinds of emotions.

This is special.

You've heard by now. St. Louis' mother, France, died unexpectedly last week of a heart attack. She was 63 and she was a beautiful woman, inside and out. A regular at Lightning games when Marty still played here, France lit up whenever she talked about her son. You should've seen her with Marty's three little boys. Ask anyone who knew France and you'll hear stories of her sweetness and kindness and warmth.

A day after she passed, St. Louis was convinced by his father to play. With his Rangers down and just about out of a best-of-seven series against the Penguins, St. Louis was the third star as New York stayed alive with a Game 5 victory. Two days later — on Mother's Day and with the chants of "Marty'' echoing through Madison Square Garden — St. Louis scored just minutes into Game 6, another Rangers' victory. His dad and sister were in the stands.

He inspired an organization and melted the heart of a city that can be as cold as it is big.

After the Mother's Day victory, St. Louis addressed teammates in an emotional speech, telling them, "Great win boys. You gotta picture it, you know. You gotta believe it. You gotta see it in your head. Everything is possible. … You guys have been nothing but unbelievable for me the past couple of days and I'll never forget that.''

And we should never forget what Marty did next — assisting on the winning goal in the winner-take-all Game 7.

But, most of all, we should never forget what St. Louis means to Tampa Bay.

He is the greatest player in the history of the Lightning, arguably the greatest athlete in Tampa Bay sports history. He was the league MVP when the Lightning won its only Stanley Cup. He was a two-time scoring champ. He was the heart and the soul of this franchise for more than a decade.

His face was on the side of the Tampa Bay Times Forum and his voice was on the tram at Tampa International Airport.

He is Mr. Lightning — our Gretzky, our Lemieux, our Howe.

Why did he end up leaving? We still don't know all the details. Like any divorce, there are two sides, and blame to be shared.

Maybe it was because Lightning general manger Steve Yzerman left him off the original Canadian Olympic team roster. Maybe it had something to do with his family. Maybe he wanted to be an even bigger fish in an even bigger pond. Maybe it was something else.

Does it even matter anymore? It's over. He was traded. Let's move on.

In the long run, the trade should turn out to be a good deal for the Lightning. If the Lightning drafts well, it will have impact players long after St. Louis has retired.

And there's this: St. Louis loved you as much as you loved him. His leaving had nothing to do with you, the fans.

He loved the Lightning, too. He sweated and bled for that organization, gave everything he had. Even his harshest critics wouldn't be foolish enough to suggest that St. Louis ever gave anything less than 100 percent while here.

Maybe what prompted him to ask for the trade is the same secret ingredient that turned an undersized, undrafted underdog into one of the NHL's best players. Or maybe he felt he and his family would just be happier somewhere else.

Whatever the case, how can you not pull for him now after all he has been through?

His Rangers are in the Eastern Conference final. The series starts Saturday afternoon in Montreal. That's where St. Louis was born. That's where he grew up. That's where his mother passed away.

It still feels odd that St. Louis is no longer with the Lightning. It does seem strange to see him in another team's uniform. And, yes, there's some sadness that goes along with that. But fans shouldn't let a messy final few weeks erase St. Louis' wonderful 13 seasons in Tampa Bay.

Remember the St. Louis you used to cheer. Remember dancing to all those renditions of Louie Louie. Remind yourself of what he has gone through.

Allow yourself to enjoy and appreciate the latest of this incredible and inspirational story of Martin St. Louis.

Forgive him. Root for him. Wish him the best.

It's time.

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