BRANDON — Let's start with this: Marty St. Louis said he is "happy" to be a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Seems trivial, right? A bit obvious. He did, after all, recently sign a four-year contract extension through the 2014-15 season.
But given the alternative the star right wing floated the day after last season ended — that he would seek a trade if he did not like the direction of the team — it is well worth noting.
"I was serious," St. Louis said of his declaration. "I didn't say that just to say it. I don't think I would have been here if this team was just rebuilding."
Instead, new general manager Steve Yzerman decided to retool to get the team back to the playoffs while building long-term, sustainable success.
So, as the Lightning today moves training camp to the Ice Sports Forum, St. Louis — whom center Steven Stamkos said is "the heart and soul of the team" and coach Guy Boucher called "a character guy" — is enjoying the possibilities.
"There's a positive vibe about being a Lightning again," St. Louis said. "We haven't had that in a while."
This is St. Louis' 10th season with Tampa Bay. He had 29 goals and 94 points last season, and was awarded the league's Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship.
The five-time All-Star has at least 80 points in five of his past six seasons, his 390 consecutive games is the league's fourth-longest active streak, and he is a critical voice in the locker room and a mentor to Stamkos, one of the league's budding superstars.
He's even come to terms with his age, 35, and the gray hairs near his temples, though Stamkos said, laughing, "He keeps it under wraps. He's the oldest guy on the team this year, so he's a allowed a few grays."
"I feel great," said St. Louis, who has a rigorous summer workout program and the cut physique to prove it. "Every summer that I train, I feel stronger. I feel stronger now than when I was 25, 26.
"I think it has a lot to do with the training I've done the last five or six years, taking care of myself, loving the game, and playing with these young guys. It makes me feel young."
But three straight years out of the playoffs got old. And after new owner Jeff Vinik, the day after last season ended, fired general manager Brian Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet, St. Louis saw a team without a rudder and, wanting to play for a winner as his career got closer to the end, considered leaving.
"You didn't know what direction they were going," St. Louis said. "But once they hired Steve Yzerman, I knew things were going to turn around. I wanted to be part of something Steve Yzerman was going to build."
"For him to stay here and sign off on his extension shows that he believes in this organization and his teammates," Stamkos said. "That's just huge. I was probably more excited than he was when he decided to stay."
St. Louis, one of three remaining players from the 2004 Stanley Cup team, said he is determined to make the decision count.
"I'm just worried about getting faster and stronger every year, and improving," he said.
"Once you stop improving, you start giving in. I think if you try to tell yourself you're 35 and should slow down, you probably will."
So he won't.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.