Tonight, Martin St. Louis will return to Tampa Bay for the first time since his stunning departure last spring.
The explanation for his trade demand has always been unclear — a nebulous, blanket statement of “family reasons” was most prevalent — and so too have the responses; onlookers seem torn between acknowledging the tremendous things St. Louis accomplished during his improbable 16-year career, and accepting the ugly way he ditched the Lightning organization (while serving as captain, no less).
Here’s what some notable pundits are saying in anticipation of tonight’s affair.
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.
The Lightning will show a video tribute to honor their former captain. How 19,000 people react will be fascinating. My guess is that No. 26, this time around, gets treated more like a sinner than a saint.
“People are entitled to their opinion and I respect it,” St. Louis said. “I know a lot of them probably will heal with time. It is what it is. I’m expecting the worst, hoping for the best.”
A night like this was always going to happen. We’ve known that, Marty has known that, since last March, when he demanded a trade and Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman sent him to the Rangers for their captain, Ryan Callahan. The wound is still too fresh for some. There are fans who feel betrayed. To them, St. Louis deserted his team.
“Some people can live with that, some people can move on, and some people are going hold that to their grave, probably,” said St. Louis’ friend and former teammate, Steven Stamkos. “I think Marty understands that. I think everyone in here understands that there are probably going to be mixed emotions from the fans. We’ll see how it goes.”
Get it out of your system, folks.
Boo your lungs out.
This is his life. It was his choice to leave a team high and dry that tapped him as the franchise’s ninth captain. It was his choice to act in a way that made him an instant villain to many.
Tuesday, it was easy to sense some regret from St. Louis with the way he made his former home a speck in the distance. He said he never had a chance to say goodbye. He said the whiplash nature of those whirlwind hours was hard.
“That was the toughest part,” he said.
But again, this is his life. Joe Maddon’s choice to opt out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays in October offers a chance to revisit St. Louis’ choice with a different perspective.
A man should be free to make his way in the world however he desires. Life is larger than team legacy. Life should be about more than stats, trophies and the roar of a crowd as “Louie Louie” plays.
Life, after all, can be too short.
St. Louis’ former coach in Tampa Bay, Jon Cooper, has a fairly good handle on the situation — and what to expect tonight.
“He does have probably a pretty in-depth relationship with the fans, and sometimes family members get in a fight and I think that’s what happened,” Cooper said, per TBO. “Sometimes they make up, sometimes they don’t. And this is a pretty big family, so the chances of them all forgiving are probably not there. So, I’m sure he’s probably going to hear it at both ends of the spectrum.
“All that I ask is people should remember what he did for the organization, because he did a lot of great things.”