Why Lightning fans should cheer for Marty St. Louis

Former Tampa Bay Lightning team captain Marty St. Louis on the ice Tuesday as he returns to Tampa with his current team, the New York Rangers, for practice leading up to the Rangers vs. Lightning game on Wednesday evening. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Former Tampa Bay Lightning team captain Marty St. Louis on the ice Tuesday as he returns to Tampa with his current team, the New York Rangers, for practice leading up to the Rangers vs. Lightning game on Wednesday evening. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Nov. 26, 2014

TAMPA — You could boo him. That's certainly your right.

You could bring his old jersey to the game and use it to clean the nacho cheese off your fingers. That, too, is your right.

You could bring a sign telling him to go back to New York and take his no-good, stinkin' Rangers buddies with him. All of that is fair game.

But here's what you should do tonight when Marty St. Louis takes the ice at Amalie Arena for the first time since being traded in March from the Lightning to the Rangers:

You should get up out of your seat, put your hands together and show him the appreciation and respect for everything he did for you, Tampa Bay and the Lightning organization.

"I'm expecting the worst,'' St. Louis said, "and hoping for the best.''

He deserves your best.

Forget the final 13 days of his Lightning career. Remember the 13 glorious seasons.

Remember the two scoring titles. Remember his Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. Remember his triple-overtime goal to win the first-round playoff series against the Capitals in 2003. Remember all those times you sang Louie, Louie.

And, of course, remember the most famous and important goal in the history of the Lightning: St. Louis' double-overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final that kept the season alive and led to the franchise's only championship two nights later.

Save your boos for another day. Put your anger on hold for one night. Remember the good times.

Remember and appreciate the greatest player in Lightning history, and arguably the greatest athlete that has ever called Tampa Bay home.

Just for one night, be mature and do the right thing. This is your one chance. Choose to remember all of the great moments instead of the one bad one.

Sometime during tonight's game, the Lightning is expected to show a video montage recognizing St. Louis' fabulous time in Tampa Bay. My guess is that the boos will far outweigh the cheers. That's a shame. St. Louis knows that's a possibility. He even understands it.

"I know,'' St. Louis said. "I get it.''

Many fans will never forgive or forget St. Louis' divorce from the Lightning.

St. Louis, the team captain, demanded a trade in the midst of a playoff push. Did he beg his way out of town because he was initially left off the Canadian Olympic team by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman?

Partly yes, but not entirely. St. Louis said Tuesday that there was more to it than that.

It was about his family. It was about his career. It was about his legacy. It was about a lot of things that really can't be put into words.

In the end? "It was time to move on,'' St. Louis said.

St. Louis has moved on. Many Lightning fans have not.

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"The situation is what it is,'' Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "There's really no sugarcoating it. We know what happened. Some people can live with that, some people can move on and some people are going to hold that to their grave probably."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said there was no doubt that St. Louis "tarnished his image with how it ended,'' but that the fans should respect and applaud his accomplishments and contributions.

It's an enigma, which is no surprise. Nothing about St. Louis' career has come easy, not even his best moments.

St. Louis might be in the Hall of Fame someday, but there has always been more to him than just talent. He is special in a way that goes far beyond skating and shooting and passing.

He plays with pride and passion. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and fire in his belly. He treats every game as if it is his last and every practice as if it is a game.

He is one of the best hockey players in the world and he plays like he is trying to prove he is not the worst.

That's what Lightning fans loved about St. Louis, and it was that pride and ego that made him want to move on. And that, ironically, is why many Lightning fans loathe him today.

Lightning fans believe they have every right to be ticked at St. Louis. They feel betrayed. He abandoned them, he quit on them. That's how many feel.

Was St. Louis right? Was he being a baby? Is he a traitor?

I ask you this: Does it even matter anymore?

Just move on.

The trade was made. It turned out to be a good deal for both the Rangers and Lightning. In a couple of years, when St. Louis is retired, the deal will swing heavily in the Lightning's favor.

And before he left for reasons that no longer matter, St. Louis did everything you could possibly ask of a player. He gave it his all. He played as hard as he could. Best of all, he delivered a Stanley Cup.

Remember that. Appreciate that. Celebrate that.

And when St. Louis takes the ice tonight, there's one more thing you should do:

Thank him for that.