How exactly do you react to the news when a player retires? Normally it's not a big deal, it happens all the time in sports without fanfare or without nostalgia, without weight in the history books at the feats accomplished. Joe Average decides to stop playing because his career doesn't get past a certain level, or he couldn't make things work to show his skill, or he couldn't catch the scout's eyes and actually get a shot to begin with. That isn't the case with this one. This is a case where the player got past that stage of a fledgling professional career and built a legacy with his game night in and night out.
This is Martin St. Louis, and Marty has announced his retirement from the sport of ice hockey. The following is from the official release of the announcement, sent out by Lightning PR:
"I have been blessed to play for 16 years in the NHL; it has been an amazing ride," said St. Louis in making the announcement. "I would like to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers organizations and owners for providing me the opportunity to play the sport I love for so many years. I could have never played for so long or accomplished all that I have without the unwavering love and support from my wife, Heather, our three sons, Ryan, Lucas, and Mason, and my parents.
"I have had the good fortune of working with some incredible players and trainers throughout my career who I am grateful to also call good friends. I am also thankful to all of the fans who have supported me through the years; it has meant so much to me. I have dedicated my life to being the best player I could be and now want to turn more of my focus to my three boys. I look forward to this next chapter of my life and the time I will have with my family."
How do you react to the news of a player's retirement? Someone who was so integral to so many grand years with your team? The Dynamo-that-made-the-Lightning-go had been such a dependable and dynamic cog while the Tampa Bay Lightning morphed from sub-mediocrity at the turn of the millennia into Stanley Cup Champions. He stayed that way during the competitive seasons that came after the 2004-05 NHL lockout in Tampa (the MVP Line of St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Vinny Prospal remains one of the most potent line combinations in franchise history), and was part of why you willingly suffered the frustrations of the OK Hockey led self-destruction of the club in 2008 through the spring of 2010.
He won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2004; he was a finalist for it again in 2011.
It's 2013-14 that befouls memories of the good times. St. Louis ascended to the captaincy of the club, a deserving place for him. The club was tested by Steven Stamkos leg-break, but endured without him in much part because of Marty...
And then he skipped out on the team as it contended for a playoff spot, over off-ice drama that still isn't clear. Locker room issues, an Olympic snub (that turned into an Olympic roster spot) by GM Steve Yzerman, and even some hair-salon worthy gossip about this-and-that which led to Marty's request to be traded to the New York Rangers and closer to home.
His leaving the team stung. For all the consecutive games played, for all the years of production and determination, to have him vacate the team he was in charge of and was considered the franchise-face of, did damage to his reputation that's still evident to this day among Lightning faithful.
NHL stars moving on is a normal process in the sport and pro sports in general; it happens all the time because sports are business. This, Marty's departure, didn't come off like a business. This was personal. Not just for the fans who invested their heart (as well as their dollars) in Marty, but in why St. Louis wanted to exit, stage let, from Amalie Arena and head to the City that Never Sleeps.
And now he's done with the game and the words to be written here just don't feel appropriate - the anger, pain, remorse, disdain. That's not the way this should go.
In a perfect universe, the end of Martin St. Louis' career would have come at the end of his season while he remained a member of the Lightning roster. It'd be a decision made not dictated by the free agent market, but out of content choice.
And we'd celebrate him because God damn it! It's Marty! Martin St. Louis was and is our guy who helped make this team something in the NHL. Yeah, we wouldn't exactly be thrilled that he was over and done with but you knew it had to happen at one point or another. It's part of life and part of sports.
Instead there's this wart of memory in how things ended here in Tampa between us and Marty. I don't know how much longer that one is going to sting or when the true healing starts.
I do know that St. Louis deserves a nod for one hell of a career by a player who was never expected to get anywhere or accomplish anything in this league. His name will be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the future (and if it's not, it's a crime and a shame to have one of the greatest undrafted players in league history left out in the cold).
How do you react to the news when a player retires, especially when that player was such a big part of the team you've invested in for more than a decade? Try to reflect on the good times, the feats of strength, and the moments that lit you up and made you proud of Marty and the Lightning. Don't get lost in how it all ended. We (the fans and #26) both deserve better than that. He helped you love this team and this sport and you loved what he brought to the game.
And so we move forward, contemplating with mixed emotions what stays behind.