BRANDON — When Marty St. Louis talks about his eventual retirement with his wife, Heather, "the first thing I tell her is I don't want to fade away.
"I want to finish with a bang."
That is why the Lightning's star wing is so worried about the lockout that is threatening to wipe out the season.
St. Louis still is a vital team member, a clutch performer and one of the faces of the franchise. But he is 37 and approaching the end of his stellar career, so every season is precious not only because so few remain but because playing helps keep his physical gifts from deteriorating.
"It's tough," St. Louis said at the Ice Sports Forum, where Tampa Bay players gather to skate.
"I know I can play a few more years in this league. I don't feel I'm at the end of my rope. But obviously I have to make sure that I keep sharpening my skills, stay sharp with my training. I have to get on the ice somehow."
So, St. Louis keeps open the possibility of playing in Europe, a step he said he seriously will consider if it becomes clear the NHL will cancel the season.
Even then, he said, there will be much to consider, such as how the move would affect Heather and their three sons, and if he wants to pay up to $70,000 a month for his insurance.
In the meantime, St. Louis, a chiseled 5 feet 7, 176 pounds, will skate at the Ice Sports Forum, where as many as 15 teammates have gathered for thrice-weekly workouts that are not just for the fun of it.
"He's in great shape. I mean, he's not a normal human being," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "His legs are, like, twice mine, the size of them. He wants to push himself. He doesn't come here just to come here and skate around. When you hit 30, you have to stay sharp and push yourself. He's doing that."
"Just skating now with the guys, I don't feel that I look or feel that much older than anyone else," St. Louis said. "I feel like I have good energy and enthusiasm about the game. I still have the hunger and the passion."
And St. Louis — under contract through the 2014-15 season, when he will be 39 — still is productive, though there are signs the league's 2003-04 regular-season MVP perhaps is starting to slow.
His 25 goals last season were tied for his fewest since 2007-08, and his 49 assists and 74 points were his fewest since 2005-06.
That said, he was a minute-muncher, with 22 minutes, 37 seconds of average ice time, second among league forwards and third most in his career. His 66 takeaways were 12th among league forwards, and his 39 blocked shots were third among Tampa Bay forwards.
Not to mention that in the past nine seasons, including playoffs, St. Louis has played in an iron man-like 794 of 801 games.
As for this season, he said, "I was ready to go," and he called the lockout "a huge disappointment," not only for its short-term effect but because of how it could affect the rest of his career.
"I don't want to just fade away," St. Louis said. "I don't think that's me. I've always been a big part of the teams I'm on. I want to go out that way."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]com. View his blog at lightning.tampabay.com.
. fast facts
Life of Marty
• Born: June 18, 1975, in Laval, Quebec Age: 37
• NHL: Undrafted. Signed with Flames as a free agent Feb. 19, 1998; signed with Lightning as a free agent July 31, 2000.
• By the numbers: 13 seasons, 6-time All-Star, 5 playoff appearances (all with Lightning), 2 Lady Byng Trophies (gentlemanly play), 1 scoring title, 1 league MVP award, 1 Stanley Cup