The sentiment from the Lightning faithful regarding Martin St. Louis (our pick for team MVP, and echoed by the St. Pete Times this morning) is that he is more important to the team than Vincent Lecavalier. He's the heart and the soul of the club. With one year left on his contract, he needs to be re-signed and the forgone conclusion is that it'll happen.
...but what if Marty doesn't like what he sees after this off-season?
The Lightning went into the tank three years ago. The team has been gutted, rebuilt, mixed up, retooled... And the losing has remained the same, the constant, the status-quo.
Martin St. Louis, like many fans, has grown tired of this. Though I would not be surprised if a "clarification" comes out about what he really meant by this, it's hard to ignore the understandable impatience expressed to reporters:
"I want to be on a winning team," he said. "It's three years of this and (we're going) back to square one, so I want to be on a winning team. That's the biggest thing. I'm not getting any younger. We'll see how it all shakes out this summer."
As his 35th birthday looms on the horizon, the reality that his playing career will not go on forever is impossible to ignore.
Hockey has a long history of storied players being dealt from the franchise they made a name/career with, for a last shot at the glory of hoisting Lord Stanley's cup. Marty may not be at his complete end (a la Ray Bourque, traded from the Bruins to the Colorado Avalanche for the final 2 seasons of his career), but as 2009-10 marked his 12th professional season... It's not hard to realize the end of St. Louis' career is much closer than the beginning.
And what looms for the Lightning is as big a change as the franchise has ever had in a single off-season. To reconstruct the brain-trust and the direction of the club -- off ice and in the locker room -- before camp opens in September.
Deposed Lightning GM Brian Lawton gave a memorable quote in October 2009 regarding Marty's future (emphasis added by me):
"I think he's easily got another four good seasons in him. I get calls about him more than any other player we've got. People think we've got (Steven) Stamkos and maybe we're looking to go younger, but as far as I'm concerned, Marty will finish his career in Tampa Bay. He will be here as long as I'm here. Heck, he'll probably be here after I'm gone."
How the Bolts retool this off-season - the GM, the coach, and on the roster - will decide if Marty proves Lawton correct in suggesting that St. Louis would finish his career in Tampa.
The Bolts rebooting, again, for the third straight off-season is frustrating. For the dynamo that makes this team go, another long-term rebuilding process likely will not cut it.