I think I've said a lot about Martin St. Louis on the site in the past eight months (or perhaps nine) as coverage started on rumors we just couldn't believe. I spent that time reporting on those rumors, trying to understand what could cause volatility to the point that St. Louis would want out, lamenting on the end of an era in this burg, and responding to Marty's self-defense talk with Tom Jones -- by laying out the hurt he was only making worse since leaving. He is a proud man, taking pride in himself and his choices, but moving forward without acknowledging who he left behind and whether they were still in earshot.
Yet we move forward in this life, always moving forward.
I shouldn't express resentment here, but one set of words that stung me during the trade ordeal - a cryptic silence that turned into an admission only after the trade request was fulfilled - was how St. Louis lamented not having the chance to say goodbye. He didn't have the chance to be applauded as a member of the Lightning before heading north to Madison Square Garden. That's where the break-up hurts the most: not the fact that he didn't have "one last game," but the fact that Marty wouldn't admit he wanted out, and thought that the confused fan base would honor him anyway.
With how all this played out, the adoration due him as the greatest player to ever wear a Tampa Bay Lightning sweater has been tarnished.
Fans grew up with St. Louis as the standard-bearer for this club. People such as I saw Marty come into his own and (as part of a larger group of players) introduce this organization to the glory that is Lord Stanley's Cup. There are so many good memories, and a franchise player moving on isn't a foreign circumstance in pro sports.
It was Marty moving on for unspoken reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise or his teammates that caused this degree of anguish and resentment.
The one thing that doesn't change, no matter how fans feel right now, is that we loved this man for what he brought to the Lightning and what he accomplished with the organization we hold dear. And we wore that love proudly by donning a sweater or shirt with Marty's name and number. He made us proud to be Lightning fans and to love this sport.
The greatest undrafted player in NHL history, the future Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, was ours, and we can and should accept that fact proudly.
St. Louis, no matter what grudge he holds toward Steve Yzerman, should be proud for the exact same reasons that he joined this organization, and for what he accomplished here - the fans adored him all the while. He said it himself, he didn't even expect to last 300 total shifts with the Lightning, let alone score 300 goals with the club. This club saved St. Louis' NHL career and made his dreams come true.
My counterpart, Joe Fortunato over at Blueshirt Banter, remarked the other night during the Rangers win over the Montreal Canadiens:
Is it possible not to love St. Louis? I feel like I root harder for him than anyone else on the ice.— Joe Fortunato (@BlueshirtBanter) November 24, 2014
We knew that fact. We know that fact. We learned it before the Lightning returned to the NHL playoffs in 2003 (7 years after it's first playoff berth ever), and before we became champions of this league in 2004. We knew it, we savored it. I'm pretty sure, despite all that "big market" crap he's uttered, Marty savored it too. What he did here, what he did with us, I don't think he'd rather trade it in for the path in life he would have taken if Rick Dudley hadn't signed him to that 2-year league-minimum deal in 2000.
Nothing lasts forever, and while we knew one day Marty was going to walk away, we expected it to be him calling it a career and doing it while still a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning Professional Hockey Club. We wouldn't have looked forward to that day either, but it would have been his choice, just as cutting ties to the Lightning was his choice.
Resent him or not, I ask fans to not resent each other for their respective feelings toward Marty. It's more constructive and positive to focus on what #26 achieved with Tampa Bay. Why we move forward without him isn't as important as simply moving forward together, united as fans and focused on the club with new assets that take his place. Steven Stamkos took up the charge of team captaincy which St. Louis vacated while others have stepped forward to share the leadership role.
We have competed and chered proudly with Marty. We move on and continue this without him because we have to, and because reality has shown us we have every reason to.