Just a few short days ago, the rumors swirling around Martin St. Louis were easy to shrug off.
"No reliable sources." ... "No one willing to put their name on it." "The gold medal probably changes everything".
There were plenty of reasons to believe that the folks claiming St. Louis had requested a trade from the Bolts were just rumor mongering. Knowing his character, it was almost impossible to believe that St. Louis would see any slight as damaging enough to abandon the only NHL team he's ever known (a brief stop in Calgary notwithstanding).
But that may be exactly what is happening.
Marty St. Louis has requested a trade from the #Lightning, Newsday confirmed.— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) February 26, 2014
"Has requested" still leaves some wiggle room -- was the request in January, when he was initially left off Team Canada for the Sochi Olympics? Was it recently? Or both?
This remains unknown. Perhaps the most damning evidence comes from the player himself, however:
St Louis addresses trade rumors with brief answer "I've had conversations with Steve about my future with the team and I'll leave it at that— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) February 26, 2014
As Bob McKenzie pointed out, when both St. Louis and Steve Yzerman returned from Sochi, it was in their best interest to quash these rumors if they're not true, especially with the team still sitting in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, poised to claim a playoff spot for the first time since the 2011 season and with an opportunity to make a deep run.
St. Louis' non-answer, and Yzerman's total silence, is the complete opposite of "quashing a rumor" and it lends more credence to the belief that St. Louis wants out.
As Lightning fans, we've all too often worshipped at the Temple of Martin St. Louis. He's been put on the highest pedastal perhaps ever seen in Tampa Bay, revered as the perfect player, the embodiment of elite skill coupled with unmatched work ethic, effort, and heart. He's been elevated to the status of demi-god in this town, so when fans from other, more Northern markets try to say that Tampa never deserved him anyways, kindly tell them to shove it.
The real blow -- the one that has even me reeling -- is seeing a man we all saw as so selfless, so doggedly determined, appearing to have a moment of selfish weakness. He was left off the original Team Canada roster likely by a single spot and that's going to be enough to irreparably damage over a decade of history with a team and fanbase, including a Stanley Cup victory, a pair of Art Ross Trophies, and a handful of other awards won with the team?
But how can we criticize him? He's not a demi-god. He's a human being. He is prone to emotional reactions, to grudges, to moments of weakness. If he wants out -- and it appears he does -- who are we to judge that desire? The only one he's had for himself in 10+ years with the team?
There's almost no hockey reason for St. Louis to leave -- the way the Lightning have played with Ben Bishop in net and Jon Cooper behind the bench has been spectacular. They're about to add a 60-goal scorer (Steven Stamkos) and perhaps their most versatile forward (Valterri Filppula) to a lineup that kept them within striking distance of a top seed in the East even while both were out. It's hard to believe that Yzerman will be able to find a trade partner looking to add St. Louis, with the requisite cap space, that also has a notably better chance at a deep playoff run (or a Cup) than the Bolts.
That means, if St. Louis does want out, the reasons have to be personal. Emotional. And maybe they'll remain private, even after he's moved on.
Just remember: Martin St. Louis is not a god. He's just a man.
But feel free to say a prayer anyways.
Per Twitter user @Hope_Smoke, TSN analyist Bob McKenzie -- perhaps the most trusted and reliable source in the hockey media -- weighs in on the St. Louis situation:
Mckenzie "my understanding is that St.Louis asked for a trade, still wants a trade and is willing to only go to the Rangers"— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) February 26, 2014
McKenzie "Yzerman does not feel obliged by the deadline. This could drag into the summer"— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) February 26, 2014
McKenzie "If your asking me whether this St.Louis - Canada thing is beating Yzerman up emotionally I'd say absolutely"— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) February 26, 2014
That paints a pretty bleak picture. St. Louis wants out, but will only waive his NMC for the New York Rangers. That forces Yzerman's hand and limits his option for leveraging value out of his captain and reigning Art Ross Trophy winner.
A swift resolution would be best for the Lightning, but if they can't get full value, do they make the deal anyways? The Rangers system isn't exactly overloaded with young talent, which is what Yzerman would target in any deal. Maybe Dan Girardi would draw some interest, but with only one destination team Yzerman has no leverage. He'd be forced either into a bad deal or no deal, dragging this out into the offseason, which could be one hell of a distraction for the playoff-bound Lightning.
This news also brings new clarity to Yzerman's decision to resign from the post of Executive Director of Hockey Canada. Clearly that has brought more harm than good to his role with the Lightning.
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