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One franchise's trash . . .

Thanks, Marty, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

That's basically what Flames management told Martin St. Louis when it decided not to renew his contract.

It was the summer of 2000, and St. Louis had flown from his home in Montreal to do some promotional work for the team, which was trying desperately to lure season-ticket holders.

Even though St. Louis' contract had expired, he was eager to help.

"Two weeks later, they let me go," St. Louis said Thursday. "I was very disappointed the way they handled that. If that's what you're going to do, why waste my time?

"They knew who would say yes to come down here. They asked the right guy."

They asked the nice guy. But in this case, the nice guy finished first.

St. Louis signed with the Lightning that summer and is one of the game's elite. So how sweet will it be for the right wing to play tonight at the Pengrowth Saddledome for the first time since becoming an All-Star?

Tampa Bay played in Calgary last season before St. Louis was named. This season, the fans voted him a starter.

Satisfying? Definitely, but not because St. Louis wants to gloat.

"This is where I started, and there are memories," he said. "I had a good time here. I had no hard feelings when I left. Obviously, I'm happy the way things worked out. But when I was here, they helped me to get where I am now."

Besides, St. Louis said, the management group that did not sign him no longer is in charge.

"Obviously, you like to play well against your old team and you like to win," he said. "Hopefully, we will do those two things (tonight)."

St. Louis is a different player than the one who toiled in a third-line checking role for the Flames.

A dynamic skater, he creates offense with an enviable ability to change directions quickly while carrying the puck and by drawing the attention of the defense, which opens lanes for teammates.

St. Louis leads the Lightning with 19 goals, 26 assists and 45 points, and he leads the league with five short-handed goals and seven short-handed points.

Coach John Tortorella said St. Louis makes other players better, a high compliment.

"He makes space for other people because people are a little concerned about him and he is able to give and go," Tortorella said. "If people try to over-compensate to get to him, he has the ability to get the puck to someone else. And that's the recipe to making people better."

"I think I am," St. Louis said when asked if he is at the top of his game. "I feel good. I'm creating a lot, not only for me, but for my linemates. A lot of our guys are on top of their games. I think we're playing our best hockey of the year right now."

It did not come easily this season, which included a two-goal, 19-game slump from Nov. 6 through Dec. 16. He broke out of it with two goals and an assist Dec. 18 against the Flyers, shortly after a one-on-one meeting with Tortorella.

St. Louis told the coach he wasn't getting the minutes he believed he needed to sharpen his game. Tortorella obliged and now is double-shifting St. Louis to get him even more time.

St. Louis has 13 goals and 11 assists in his past 19 games and leads Tampa Bay's forwards with an average 20:18 of ice time. He also found a comfortable spot alongside linemates Vinny Lecavalier and Ruslan Fedotenko.

"He's a great player," Lecavalier said. "A very fast player and a great passer."

"I want to have that attention," St. Louis said. "When I have the puck, I want people to come to me. I know it's going to open space up away from them, and I'm able to make plays that way. That's how you create scoring chances."

That, the Flames will be reminded, is how you become an All-Star.

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