Thursday, April 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Marty St. Louis: 'Was anyone more loyal?'

NEW YORK

You can still see the hurt in his eyes. You can still hear the frustration in his voice. Marty St. Louis is fully aware of what's going on back in Tampa Bay. He knows that he is seen as a traitor, a deserter, someone who wadded up his Lightning sweater and threw it in the trash. He stomped his feet and held his breath until he got his way. You should know that he hears you and he knows what you think: that he turned his back on Tampa Bay. "You think I turned my back?" St. Louis said with a pained look on his face while standing in a quiet corner outside the Rangers dressing room at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday afternoon. "Turned my back? Really? I was there 13, 14 years. Was there anyone more loyal to them in those 14 years?" Those 14 years should have turned into forever. It should have ended with a retired number in the rafters and a statue outside the building. It should have ended with his name on the door of a corner office that overlooked a street named in his honor. Instead, the most beloved player in franchise history might now be the most despised. He knows that, and it hurts him deeply.

Even as he plays in the Stanley Cup final for his new team, the one he hand-picked to help win a championship, the way his time with the Lightning came to an end bothers him as much as it bothers you.

These days, St. Louis is done answering questions about the trade. He has a new team now and more pressing matters at hand with his Rangers down 3-0 and needing a victory tonight against the Kings to keep the series going. When asked in a media scrum about joining the Rangers, St. Louis said, "Can we please just talk about the game?"

However, St. Louis did talk exclusively to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday about the controversial trade in March that sent him from the Lightning to the Rangers. He spoke candidly for about 10 minutes, although asking that many of his comments be off the record.

For the record, he knows people still are upset with him. And that upsets him.

"I understand, I do," St. Louis said. "But …"

St. Louis stops. He looks away. And all the pain comes rushing back.

St. Louis asked for a trade, he asked to leave his home of 14 years, he asked to leave a place that he admitted Tuesday that "I really, really love" because he no longer could believe in a man who no longer believed in him.

Yes, there were family considerations and career ramifications, but St. Louis would still be in Tampa Bay if he had not been initially left off the Canadian Olympic team by Team Canada executive director and Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

That's it. That's pretty much what it was all about. Being left off the Canadian Olympic team by Yzerman.

His dream was crushed, his confidence was shattered. The player who had always been told he wasn't good enough was told, once again, that he wasn't good enough. This time by his own boss, one of the greatest hockey players of all time.

He was devastated.

Never mind that St. Louis was eventually added to the team because of an injury to Steven Stamkos. Forget that Yzerman was not alone in picking the Canadian team. For St. Louis, who is as proud as he is talented, the circle of trust had been broken.

And so that's why St. Louis feels misunderstood now. The way he sees it, he wasn't the disloyal one.

"My time in Tampa, I gave everything I had," St. Louis said. "Everything! Who was more loyal? Look at my career there."

History suggests St. Louis often did put the Lightning ahead of himself.

Right after the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, St. Louis signed a new long-term contract for less money than he probably could have gotten on the free agent market, especially considering that he was, technically, the best player in the NHL, having just won the Hart Trophy as league MVP. He signed a lucrative but team-friendly deal in hopes that the Lightning could keep its core together and continue to compete for Stanley Cups.

He stayed when goofball owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie were running the ship into the ground. He also didn't ask for a trade when new owner Jeffrey Vinik hired Yzerman, who had left St. Louis off the Olympic team in 2010.

And you can't find one single shift in 14 years when it appeared St. Louis was giving anything less than 100 percent.

It was only when St. Louis was disrespected a second time that he felt enough was enough, and even in the aftermath of that, he played some of his best hockey until the trade.

He was always intrigued by the Rangers. His wife and family love the northeast. They have a home in nearby Connecticut. When St. Louis requested a trade, the Rangers were the team that made sense professionally and personally and Yzerman worked out a deal.

Since then, it has been a compelling drama. St. Louis went his first 14 games in New York without a goal. But then he became the team's inspirational leader and best player following the death of his mother right before Mother's Day. He helped bring the Rangers back from a 3-1 series deficit to the Penguins and sparked their run to the final for the first time in 20 years.

But now he is struggling (one goal and a minus-4) in this final as the Rangers are on the brink of elimination. There are probably some in Tampa Bay who aren't disappointed by the turn of events, smiling while thinking that karma can be a real kick in the head.

St. Louis says he is only concerned about Game 4. But don't think for a second that he is he has forgotten Tampa Bay.

"I love Tampa," St. Louis said. "I really do."

Tampa Bay, however, doesn't love him back. And you should know that Marty St. Louis is somewhat confused by that. And deeply bothered by it, too.

   
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