♪ Hey, Jude / Don't make it bad / Take a sad song and make it better ♪
- The Beatles, Hey Jude, 1968
There's a growing reputation for my music interest, and those close to me know that the Beatles had a profound influence on my life. The opening lyric of the verse cited above from the band's smash #1 single from the summer of 1968 was penned by Paul McCartney as he traveled to see John Lennon's son, Julian, to assuage the child as his parents were in the middle of divorce proceedings (check out some of the song facts, the song originally began as "Hey Jules"), The song is about encouragement, the verses that follow the lead turn it into a story about love. Oh, it's also got a simple-but-kick-ass coda (the endless refrain of na-na-na's) to end the song.
On March 5th, 2014, we hit an end-point as rumors proved to be truth: Martin St. Louis wanted out and was gone to the one club he would allow himself traded to, the New York Rangers. Everything that followed in the weeks and months after felt like the fallout from a messy breakup. St. Louis, speaking in the media, hurt his admirers back in Tampa Bay, leading to resentment. It festered, it lingered and hurt that St. Louis seemed to speak with little awareness of damage he was creating by way of carelessness. You can still see it play out in casual remarks on social media and in blogs. Hell, my own writing about it again is evidence something remains.
Months later, when the Lightning and Rangers played out their season series in November 2014, Marty-versus-Bolts sideshow was part of the narrative. I penned another song-themed article at the time focusing on the end and the need to move forward. "November Rain" by Guns n'Roses can also be seen as mournful (well, if you've seen the video, the way it ends sort of stresses the notion). Having to play Marty as the opponent, as the enemy, after so many years and specific instances of him as the savior, as a centerpiece, as the dynamo-that-made-the-Lightning-go... It was mournful, but it was also a necessary step in our personal relationship with St. Louis; it was over and we had to let things go and move on.
Martin St. Louis' career unofficially ended late in the evening on May 29, 2015 as the final horn sounded. A degree of satisfaction from disgruntled fans could be taken that Marty was kicked out of contention by his old club. Announcing his retirement wouldn't come until July but it was the last time he was suited up as a player on a National Hockey League roster. The franchise that afforded St. Louis a chance, that he proved himself best while playing with, the one that he reached the highest marks, achieved the biggest accolades and found the greatest professional glory with, vanquished him from contention and ended his final shot at Lord Stanley's Cup.
Seriously, what now? I'm not talking about his future plans, but I mean our relationship with the former #26. You're not just going to forget him. You might want to just throw him to the side of the road and move on because you have enough heroes and satisfaction at the moment to rally around. He's alumni, woo, so? The thing is that he made too big a mark as a player and a team personality over his career in Tampa to just dismiss him from Lightning history by way of how it all ended. Some fans may think it best to keep him tucked away in the closet of memories and out of eyesight; an heirloom trophy marred by a memory as much as it was an accomplishment... But It isn't just some minor award, it's not some meaningless prize, nor is it a picture of someone you only had a casual connection with. It's Marty. Don't treat him as a throw-away piece of team history.
That's the whole reason I pull out a near 50-year-old song to lead in this ramble. At one point or another, Martin St. Louis will be back at 401 Channelside Drive in plain clothes to have some type of conversation with the organization about honoring him, maybe simply having him involved in a franchise event. It doesn't mean he'll ever be employed here - he lives in Connecticut now; that commute to work every day would suck.
While some type of reconciliation might have been easy to make in the halls and offices of Amalie Arena when he came back to play against the Lightning, it's among the fans where the issues stand. How are these wounds - the timing of his departure, the words from the spring of 2014 -- healed? St. Louis isn't going to just stay away X number of years so things mend by distance, and you shouldn't think the team brass wants that (no Martin St. Louis at any point in the near future). The entire approach during the ownership tenure of Jeff Vinik has been respect for the past of the franchise and getting team alumni involved in functions when possible. Marty is a whole lot of the Tampa Bay Lightning's past and the fact is if the club - from the top level - wants to get St. Louis accepted again widely by Lightning fans, back to the point where fans no longer speak of him in ill-regard. How can the organization bring it back to him being regarded as a cherished hero and not seen as a traitor who wanted out at a time when the franchise was readying for the playoffs? It happened, it's over, and it's Marty. Marty! The memory of him shouldn't be his end in Tampa but his career successes here instead.
To paraphrase Paul McCartney and that summer of 1968 hit, the goal by the club should be getting fans to accept the St. Louis back into their heart / under their skin. Only then can we - Marty, the Bolts, the fans - begin to make it better. The club can't cure it all, though. The movement that's needed is on your personal shoulder.
It's a process, not a song though. What that process will be and when the club and St. Louis will try to implement it (if at all) remains to be seen. Marty's words in The Players Tribune don't necessarily start to make things better, but it does suggest it could be in the cards.