The Lightning are set to raise Martin St. Louis’ number into the rafters of Amalie Arena on Friday night. No other Bolt will wear 26 from this day forward and given his contributions to the team it’s a very deserved honor. When the news about this week’s ceremony broke last fall quite a few fans met it with a rather hostile response. They still feel betrayed by St. Louis’ departure. It’s been almost three years since the trade that sent Marty to New York and it’s time to put that anger aside.
I’m the first to admit that I was very angry at how Marty’s trade went down. I wrote about it at great length. It was easy to feel slighted when one of the long time faces of the franchise left a young, promising team hoping to embark on a trip to the playoffs. St. Louis had been built up as the “heart and soul” of the team and he left. Resentment festered as the Lightning were swept out of the 2014 postseason and the New York Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Final. New York lost that series to the Los Angeles Kings and there was a small measure of closure for me as a fan.
That closure was made complete when the Lightning defeated the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final. The last NHL game St. Louis played ended by seeing the team he’d spurned celebrate in his house. After that it was over. Marty retired and the Lightning have enjoyed continued success in part to the assets acquired from his departure.
The most obvious return is that of Ryan Callahan who has become a key part of the team when healthy. They obtained two first round picks in 2014 and 2015 in the transaction. The Bolts traded those away for later picks and selected Dominik Masin, Jonathan MacLeod, Mitchell Stephens and Anthony Cirelli. The 2015 seventh round pick received in the St. Louis trade was sent back to the Rangers in return for Daniel Walcott. The Lightning may have been in a less than ideal situation in early 2014 but they made the trade work in their favor. Look no further than Stephens and Cirelli tearing it up for Team Canada at the World Juniors.
It’s impossible to examine some of the Lightning’s greatest moments without St. Louis. Winning their first playoff series, the double OT game winning goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, setting up Steven Stamkos’ 60th goal in 2012 and hoisting the Cup on the ice after Game 7. His fingerprints are all over the Lightning’s past and present. Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat have all spoken about Marty’s importance at the beginning of their NHL careers.
“I hope they can forgive me, I guess,” St. Louis said. “I understand their pain. It wasn’t easy for me to do that, either. I love Tampa. I loved playing there. I loved everything about it. It was just time to move on for bigger reasons than just me. I gave everything I had to the Lightning for many years, and I hope they can remember that, not just the decision that I made that hurt their feelings.”
“But I respect the fans, and I understand their pain. I was hurting, too. They didn’t deserve that.” – Martin St. Louis
No matter how his time with the team ended he is indelibly linked with the franchise both on and off the ice. His number in the rafters will be an eternal reminder of that. Tampa Bay is better because Marty was here and the organization has benefited from his departure. It’s time for fans who still feel the sting of anger to put aside past transgressions. The Lightning are who they are now because of St. Louis and that deserves to be celebrated.
(Photos/Christine Gunn and Getty Images)