Martin St. Louis - UFA?

It's rare that player names are being thrown around in the hockey blog community unless it's Trevor Linden or another executive board member. Prospects might be mentioned (I think that kid from Rimouski gets some press -- what's his name, Crosby? :P ) but actual NHL players and speculation of their future has been a lost item in most discussions.

The new CBA is supposedly nearing completion, you've probably heard the NHLPA recinded their request for Union status in British Columbia - a sign that the war is nearing an end. You've read about the R and D camp that the league held, you might have even heard about entry-draft backup plans that are supposed to come into effect the moment the CBA is ironed out.... So it's safe to start speculating about life after this lockout ends.

I've often thought about all the quesitons that were floating around about the Lightning post-Stanley-Cup. Last year Jay Feaster did quite a job re-signing players form the Championship roster while losing only Jassen Cullimore. Martin St. Louis was in negotiations with Feaster on a new deal up until the lockout loomed and talks broke off. It was impossible to negotiate a new deal for the Hart Trophy winner while neither side knew what framework they'd have to work with.

St. Louis remained Lightning property under the last Colelctive Bargaining Agreement, a restricted free agent. It basically put a lock on his status as a member of the Bolts... Yet now that there is a salary cap, that the restricted free agency rules and unrestricted free agency rules are redrawn (and will be unveiled when the new CBA is agreed to), Martin's status in Tampa Bay is as big a question mark as whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

The potential for the Lightning to lose St. Louis has got to be the most painful thought that long time Bolts fans can imagine. Marty, in his play with the Lightning, lit up the fans inside and showed that there was a reason to hope even when the team wallowed in wretchedness. He gave fans like myself a reason to hang in there and be optimistic for the future, to dare to hope... Short in stature but big on heart and determination, St. Louis plays a strong two way game that helps make him a threat in both zones.

The hockey community is speculating on Sidney Crosby a lot but how can you pass over the Hart Memorial Trophy winner of 2003-04? St. Louis' status is a bigger boggle than if the league will fix the draft in the New York Rangers favor. Able to light up an offense, add a dynamic to anyone's power-play unit and solidify a teams Penalty Kill, St. Louis can immediately step onto a team and help raise the stakes.

This might give Lightning fans another reason to hate Bob and Gary -- and further underline why 2003-04 was the end of an era... For 4 seasons, St. Louis helped lead the Lightning from the depths of the NHL to it's highest peak. It's a question that all fans must wonder - will there be a 5th?