TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning announced Thursday that, for the first time in franchise history, it will retire a number. There was only one logical choice.
Marty St. Louis.
The greatest player in franchise history will go down in history. And he will never be forgotten as his No. 26 will hang from the rafters at Amalie Arena. The ceremony is planned for Friday, Jan. 13 when the Lightning host the Columbus Blue Jackets. There's significance to that as well. The Blue Jackets are coached by John Tortorella, who was St. Louis' coach when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004.
That year capped the best season of St. Louis' remarkable 17-year career, 13 of which was spent in Tampa Bay. In 2003-04, St. Louis led the league in scoring and won league MVP honors while leading Tampa Bay to the Cup.
That was the first of two times that St. Louis won a scoring title. Incredibly, at age 37, St. Louis won another with the Lightning in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Unfortunately, that turned out to be St. Louis' last full season in Tampa Bay.
After playing 972 games with the Lightning and serving as captain, St. Louis requested and was granted a trade the following season. Details of the request remain murky. St. Louis expressed a desire to be closer to where his family made their permanent residence in Connecticut near New York City. In addition, St. Louis had raw feelings after initially being left off the 2014 Canadian Olympic team by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who was Team Canada's executive director.
Whatever the reason, St. Louis was traded to the Rangers, leaving many Lightning fans bitter over the captain asking out of the organization during a playoff drive. Some remain angry at St. Louis, but the frosty relationship seemed to warm when he received a nice reception when his Rangers returned to Tampa Bay in November of 2014.
St. Louis is the franchise's all-time leading scorer with 953 points and he ranks second in Lightning history in games (972) and goals (365).
Some Lightning fans might ask why Vinny Lecavalier, the team's all-time leader in games and goals, won't be the first to have his number retired. Partly, one would guess, is that St. Louis retired a year before Lecavalier, who ended his career this past summer.
Lecavalier will be honored with a night on Oct. 18. Don't be surprised if Lecavalier's No. 4 someday joins St. Louis' 26.