Martin St. Louis’ jersey retirement ceremony: Where, when, and one fan’s thoughts

Sic parvis magna.

Martin St. Louis retired on July 2, 2015, finishing his career with 1,134 games played, 391 goals, 642 assists, and 1,033 points. No one can deny St. Louis’ rise from a nobody to a star. An undersized and underappreciated player who always had to fight harder than anyone else to get recognized, he made it this far — to see his name flown high on a banner at Amalie Arena.

St. Louis is a Hall of Fame player who is to be enshrined not as a Ranger, but as a Bolt. This is something that we all need to remember: his exodus to New York, as painful as it was, will only equate to a footnote in his long career (remember, Gretzky was a Blue for just one season). St. Louis’s highlights will be with us, Tampa Bay — the only team that gave him a real shot in the NHL.

Despite his diminutive size, he accomplished a lifelong dream: to play in the National Hockey League and become one of the best to ever play.

No one can deny St. Louis’ drive, determination, heart, and competitiveness. His teammates loved him, his coaches loved him, his fans loved him. Marty put everything out there every game and never complained about it. He is destined to be immortalized in Lightning lore alongside Vincent Lecavalier.

Tonight at Amalie Arena

Tonight, St. Louis' jersey will be retired at Amalie Arena, where it belongs. The ceremony begins at 6:30 PM, and the org has recommended that people come early -- doors open at 5:30.

The ceremony will include notable figures in his life, including Dave Andreychuk, Vincent Lecavalier, Frederick Modin, Tim Taylor, Ruslan Fedotenko, Jay Feaster, Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman, Gary Bettman, Steven Stamkos, John Tortorella, and more. It's going to be a packed house, y'all, for the second most important ceremony that the Tampa Bay Lightning have seen yet.

If you won't be at the arena, you can watch the ceremony streaming on NHL.TV, Fox Sports Sun, and streaming on Fox Sports Go. You can also hear it on the Lightning Power Play Radio. Dave Mishkin's take on the event is bound to be historic.

The heart of the Tampa Bay Lightning

St. Louis’s story is well known throughout the hockey world. He was born in Laval, Quebec, Canada on June 18, 1975. I won’t go into his journey to the NHL, that story has been covered numerous times, but before I delve into the controversy that is Martin St. Louis, let me first detail why Marty was so dear to the fans of Tampa Bay.

St. Louis is the career leader for the Lightning in assists (588) and points (953). He is second in goals (365, 18 goals behind Lecavalier) and games played (972, 65 games behind Lecavalier). He won three Lester B. Pearson awards, two Art Ross awards, a Hart trophy, and a Stanley Cup during those 14 years. But beyond the numbers and awards, St. Louis spent 14 seasons in Tampa Bay.

He endeared himself to the fans by proving every expert wrong that being too small would be his failing. He inspired kids not just in the Tampa area, but throughout the U.S. and Canada, to know that size does not matter, it’s determination that will lead you to success.

St. Louis went out every game and fought tooth and nail to earn every ounce of respect he has today. He took the cheap shots, the snide remarks, and the stigma of being a smaller player, and just kept moving forward. This made everyone in Tampa fall in love with him. He was the heart and soul of the team, because no matter what happened on the ice, everyone knew that Marty was going to battle until the very end.

Winning in Tampa Bay

We all know the vintage Marty highlight. It came in game six of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, against Calgary (ironically the first NHL team to sign him out of college), in double overtime.

Just 33 seconds in, St. Louis knocked a rebound past Miikka Kiprusoff to stave off elimination, keeping the Lightning alive and forcing a do-or-die game seven back at the St. Pete Times Forum. A few days later he would become a part of Tampa’s only Stanley Cup championship team to date.

Side note: Gary Thorne is a legend.

Many faces came and went after that championship season. Only two real constants remained: Lecavalier and St. Louis. Vinny was the face of the team, but St. Louis was its beating heart.

No one in Tampa Bay ever put thought into either of these men leaving, but when Lecavalier’s contract was bought out under the then new (and now defunct) “compliancy clause,” no one questioned who the next captain would be. It would be the man who’d carried the spirit of the Lightning for all those years: St. Louis.

Marty’s first season as captain was primed to be a special one. The Lightning were an up-and-coming team with young players like Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat, making the Bolts a young force to be reckoned with.

Leaving Tampa Bay

St. Louis’ trade request in January of 2014 wasn’t completely unheard of. He made the same request in 2009 to General Manager Brian Lawton, but nothing ever materialized from it. The reasons for his request during a playoff run were a bit convoluted. Most point to General Manager Steve Yzerman’s decision to leave St. Louis off Team Canada’s Olympic team as the big tipping point (ironically St. Louis ended up on Team Canada anyway due to Stamkos’ broken leg).

Others bring up his desire to be closer to his family in the northeast United States. I believe it was a combination of both, although personally, I think St. Louis being upset at Yzerman for making a hockey decision is immature and rash on his part, but I’m not Martin St. Louis.

The family reasoning I can relate to on a personal level. Being away from your family for extended periods of time can really affect you. You begin to miss important moments in family members lives, you can’t make special occasions as often, and your time with them when you do get there is always too short.

However, leaving the team during a playoff run when they needed St. Louis’ leadership was a controversial choice. Not only was he turning his back on the team, but he was also turning his back on a fan base that loved him dearly and supported him for 14 years. This, coupled along with the comments he made, didn’t do anything to smooth things over. It was a shock to everyone when they read his statements. The bitterness Lightning fans have towards him has died some, but there are quite a few who still hurt from this decision.

As for myself, I was devastated that my hockey hero willingly left my team for reasons (at the time) that seemed petty and selfish. I, like many Lightning fans, felt betrayed by the man who had always carried the heart of the team. I won’t deny the fact that I was actively rooting for Los Angeles during that Stanley Cup Final. I also won’t deny the fact that I was happy the Kings rather quickly dispatched the Rangers.

Fans fall into three categories about his history with Tampa Bay. The first group are the fans who still hold everything against Marty and want little to nothing to do with him. These fans feel betrayed by the man who up and left the team when they needed him most. It will take time for these fans to fully turn around on MSL.

The second group are fans who immediately forgave Marty once he retired and made a statement about his actions. These fans understand that hockey is a business, and sometimes you make decisions that don’t always align with one team. They embrace the fact that Martin St. Louis is arguably the greatest player to ever wear Tampa blue, and support him no matter what.

The final group are fans who have conflicted feelings. I am a part of this group. These fans understand Marty’s importance to the franchise and appreciate him, but are still hurt from his actions and comments.

The biggest issue that this group has is that St. Louis will be first to have his jersey retired. Many of us agree Marty’s jersey deserves to be in the rafters of Amalie Arena (no matter your feelings towards him he deserves that honor and you can not rationally argue against it), however, we believe he forfeited the privilege of being the first to do so once he forced his way out of Tampa. Fans like me believe that Vincent Lecavalier should receive the honor of being first, given that his departure was not of his own doing.

The end

The Lightning have made their decision, though. St. Louis will be the first Lightning player to have his jersey retired, and this is something we all must accept. I believe Marty has done more than enough to be forgiven; I still disagree that he should be the first, but I can accept it.

St. Louis deserves this honor. Let’s all put our hurt aside and stand by Marty on his night on January 13. Let’s celebrate a Hall of Fame career. Let’s remember all he has done for Tampa Bay — all the good he has done for the Lightning outweighs the negative at the end of his career.

Martin St. Louis came from small beginnings and achieved greatness. He did that as a Lightning. He will always be a Lightning.