TAMPA — Marty St. Louis will make his anticipated return to Amalie Arena on Wednesday night.
Whether fans decide to boo or cheer is up to them. But what should they also do?
It might sound strange, but the Lightning is way better off now — and will be in the future — because it succumbed to St. Louis' trade demands in March.
Stay with me now. At the time, it hurt, the captain leaving his team in the middle of a playoff push. St. Louis, 39, is arguably the greatest player in franchise history. He won a Hart Trophy and brought a Stanley Cup to Tampa Bay. None of that is forgotten.
But St. Louis didn't want to be here, no matter his reasons. And that Tampa Bay, having the ability to negotiate with just the Rangers, was able to snag wing Ryan Callahan along with two first-round picks may end up being a steal, especially considering how deep next year's draft is.
Tampa Bay also got a chance to move on. This was always going to be Steven Stamkos' team eventually. The trade just sped up the process. And with an extremely young group of players, along with a relatively new coach in Jon Cooper, that culture could be created with a more seamless process. St. Louis was the last link to the old guard. Cooper called the trade a defining moment for the franchise.
"We sort of have a brand-new sort of team," Cooper said. "Last year, I guess, was a page-turner in a way. We let go a little bit of the past, and this is the new Lightning."
Taking away Stamkos' longtime wingman no doubt had — and still has — an impact. The duo was special, and such chemistry doesn't happen overnight. But in Callahan, 29, Tampa Bay has a top-line-caliber wing and all-around player, a former captain who can help Stamkos as part of the leadership group. It'd be surprising if Callahan wasn't an alternate captain this season.
And who knows if Callahan would have considered signing a six-year deal with Tampa Bay in June had he not spent the final two months with the Lightning? Defenseman Anton Stralman and center Brian Boyle, two of the team's biggest offseason acquisitions, might not be here if not for the trade; the former Rangers consulted teammate Callahan before.
The deal worked out in the short term for the Rangers, who caught lightning in a bottle in making a run to the Stanley Cup final in June. St. Louis is happy, having come three wins away from his second title, plus he gets to spend more time with his family.
But the Lightning is near the top of the Eastern Conference. It could be for years to come.
And it has St. Louis partly to thank.
Will you boo or cheer Marty St. Louis Wednesday and why? Tell Joe Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.