Monday, November 24, 2014

Tributegate - Martin St. Louis' Return To Tampa

The moment of truth is coming this Wednesday for Lightning fans. For the first time since he talked his way out of town last Spring, Marty St. Louis is playing a professional hockey game in Tampa. What will the reaction be? Will he be serenaded with boos every time he touches the puck? Will he be cheered? Will there be boos and a smattering of applause? Or will there be nothing but apathetic silence?

Chances are it will be option three.  While I’m not as emotionally invested in the saga as other fans, the fact remains that St. Louis slid his way out of town while he was captain of a playoff-bound team. The only way he could have made the exit uglier was if he kicked Joe Redner’s dog on the way out of town. It truly was a Hulk Hogan-NWO worthy heel turn.And yes I would give St. Louis $5.00 to grow a blonde handlebar mustache/5 o'clock shadow combination.

That being said he is also on the Mount Rushmore of all-time great Lightning players.  He will always have supporters in the crowd (including myself) where his past accomplishments outweigh his acrimonious exit from the organization. I’ll take a decade of exceptional/border-line hall of fame play in exchange for a forced trade that netted the Lightning a first round pick, a second round pick and a decent player in Ryan Callahan.

Fans will be fans but the more interesting aspect will be how the Lightning as an organization handle his return. If circumstances had been different, an elaborate video package would be produced chronicling his storied past with the team (and most likely fading out with the image of a bearded, scared  St. Louis raising the Stanley Cup). The Rangers produced such a package for Callahan, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman when they returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time last week.  And the Lightning put together a similar welcome for Vincent Lecavalier last season when he returned wearing the garish orange and white Flyers uniform.

Remember the good times (photo lifted from

However, as of press time for this post, questions still linger on if the Lightning will produce such a video. General Manager Steve Yzerman is pretty much a soulless, team-building robot (that’s a good thing!) so I’m not surprised that he isn’t going to go out of his way to welcome back a player who went out of his way to paint the organization in a negative light while demanding his trade. It is worth noting that the team celebrated the 10th anniversary of their only Stanley Cup victory a few days after St. Louis was traded and his contributions to that historic campaign were noticeably absent in the tribute video they ran during the celebration.

I don’t know Mr. Yzerman personally, but needless to say I think he’s the type of guy who knows how to hold onto a grudge. I kind of wish the Rangers were still banged up with injuries so that the skating dumpster fire that is Mike Kostka was still on their team.  I could totally see Mr. Yzerman having the team produce a 90 second video highlighting Kostka’s 19 game career with Tampa Bay and showing that instead of a tribute to St. Louis.

It wouldn’t shock me if he forbids all mention of St. Louis’ name during the game. Imagine Paul Porter announcing a New York goal, “New York goal scored by 61 Rick Nash. Assist by number 26.  Rick Nash assisted by number 26 at 14:19”. Kind of like the old NHL video games that didn’t have the rights to certain players.

There haven’t been many Lightning players that have demanded to be traded from the team. The closest example might be Brian Bradley, one of the team’s first “stars”.  Rumors of Bradley being “soft” led to some grumbling in the clubhouse about his dedication to the team and rumors that the club wanted to move him. However, he suffered an a serious concussion that would end his career before he was able to be traded.  Since then he has been welcomed back into the family and can often be seen on Lightning broadcasts.

In the overall big picture trading St. Louis was good for the team. There are the actual assets brought back in the trade. Callahan has fit in well enough to sign a long-term deal to stay in Tampa and has produced while skating on the top line with Steven Stamkos.  The draft-pick for 2014 turned into a 1st round pick when the Rangers made the Eastern Conference finals.  Mr. Yzerman then traded that pick to the Islanders for two second picks and selected defensemen Dominik Mason and Jonathan MacLeod. Still waiting to be cashed in is a 1st round pick in a stacked 2015 draft.

It has also opened up ice time for some of the younger players.  Ondrej Palat and MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV (his official name from here on out) in particular have flourished with the playing time afforded by the former captain’s departure.  The Lightning offense hasn’t exactly stalled without the diminutive forward.  St. Louis has 17 points coming into the game on Wednesday.  That would put him fifth on the Lightning behind Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Valterri Filppula and MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV.  It would also put him one point ahead of his trade partner Callahan.

Why yes, I do now own a MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV jersey.

Speaking of Marty St. Louis scoring points. He’s scored a lot of them in his career. Nine-hundred and ninety-eight of them to be exact. Which means there is an outside chance that he could record his 1000th point AGAINST Tampa Bay. Which would only be slightly awkward. Imagine reaching a career milestone while boos rain down on the ice like jerseys at an Oilers game.

I really hope it doesn’t happen.  First and foremost because it would mean that the Rangers have scored at least two goals and no one wants that to happen. Secondly, I think if the fans do boo him for accomplishing such a milestone in a different uniform it would be something that wouldn’t age well.  As we know, time heals all wounds and ninety-nine times out of a hundred fans will forgive a player eventually, no matter how ugly the exit was. Remember that he did score 953 of those points in a Lightning uniform.

A decade from now, when St. Louis is inducted into the Hall of Fame wouldn’t it be nice if the media could play a video clip of him recording his 1000th point and not have to edit out the sound of 19,000 people booing? Respect the accomplishment, if not the man doing it. Kind of like the Yankee fan begrudgingly cheering for Billy Chapel’s perfect game in “For the Love of the Game”.

It would be a little petty for the Lightning as an organization to not show a video. Hilarious, but petty. They should just man up and put a tribute together, potential booing be damned.  Besides it would provide a closure point for all of the animosity. The fans can finally direct all of their discord directly at him and then move on. The healing/welcoming back process can finally begin in earnest.