Marty St. Louis elected to Hockey Hall of Fame

From undrafted to unparalleled, he joins Dave Andreychuck as the second member of the 2003-04 team to be enshrined

It’s a close game. The Lightning are shorthanded and a player wearing number 26 hops over the boards. The crowd’s attention is instantly drawn to him and they watch as he starts harassing an opponent in the neutral zone and eventually gains control of the puck. In a flash he streaks through open ice and then dekes once, twice, three times before softly flicking the puck past a befuddled goaltender. The song Louie, Louie kicks on over the loudspeakers and the crowd erupts.  That’s the lasting memory of Martin St. Louis.

On Monday, former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The franchise leader in assists (588), points (953), short-handed goals (28), game-winning goals (64) and hat tricks (8), becomes the first player elected to the Hall of Fame that spent the majority of his career in Tampa.

For someone that went undrafted, the amount of hardware that he collected was impressive. Heck, it was impressive for a player that was drafted. Over his 13-year career he collected two Art Ross Trophies (2003-04, 2012-13), one Hart Memorial  Trophy (2003-04), one Ted Lindsay Award (2003-04) and three Lady Byng Memorial Trophies (2009-10, 2010-11, 2012-13). He played in six All-Star Games and, of course, won one Stanley Cup.

While he started his career in a different city, Calgary, and ended it another, New York, he will always be associated with the Tampa Bay Lightning. After failing to catch on with the Flames, he signed with the Lightning on July 31st, 2000, the same day the club re-signed Steve Martins and Brian Holzinger. Martins had been claimed on waivers the previous winter and Holzinger had been picked up in one of the numerous Chris Gratton trades. Of the three, St. Louis had the least impressive resume.  How things changed.

Relegated to a checking line during his time in Calgary, the move to Tampa redefined his career. With the Bolts, he resumed his role as a defensive forward, but eventually went to then head coach Steve Ludzik and asked for the opportunity to play more of an offensive role. With not much to lose on a woeful Lighting club, St. Louis was given more ice time and found his offense. He scored 18 goals and 40 points and was a bright spot on a team that lost 47 games. His second season with the Lightning started off even better as he racked up 35 points in 53 games.

Unfortunately, on January 23rd in Mellon Arena, St. Louis went to fight for a puck in the corner and tripped over the stick of Penguins defender Josef Melichar and crashed awkwardly into the boards. His right fibula was broken and his season was over.

It was a tough moment for the winger who had worked so hard to succeed in the NHL and was just starting to show what he was capable of. Things could have gone south. He could have faded away, another scrappy player undone by injury. The Lightning could have cut ties with him not knowing if his biggest asset - his speed - would disappear due to the injury.

Looking back, it’s funny to think that St. Louis might not make it back from the injury. Lightning fans have learned that summer that no player takes fitness more serious than Marty St. Louis. He rehabbed and came back stronger.

The Lightning  took a chance and it paid off. In the off-season, they re-signed St. Louis to a two-year $2.5 million contract and he rewarded them by recording his first 30 goal season, a feat he would accomplish six more times with the club.  While Ludzik gave him the chance, it was John Tortorella that would unlock his full potential. The fiery head coach and the stubborn, willful forward pushed each other to be better. Three times he would crack 90 points in a season and in 2006-07 he cracked 100 points as he potted 43 goals and added 59 assists.

It wasn’t just the goals and assists that made St. Louis such an important player to the franchise.

He was the undersized, under-appreciated scoring dynamo that never stopped competing. The Laval native was the embodiment of an organization that had been looked over for so long. Prior to his arrival, the Lightning were a laughingstock in the NHL. Along with Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, and Pavel Kubina, he was part of the young nucleus that was just waiting for a leader like Dave Andreychuk to lead them over the final hurdle.

Following the Cup victory, St. Louis went on to become one of the most prolific scorers in the league. In the decade from 2003-04 to 2013-14, his 816 points was second only to Joe Thornton’s 846.  He was third in assists over that time period and eighth in goals.

His highlight reel of goals is impressive. From skating in backwards on a penalty sho, to abusing Kenny Jonsson, St. Louis’ top goals rivals any player’s both past and present.

With all due respect to Ruslan Fedotenko, the biggest goal in Tampa Bay Lightning history belongs to Marty St. Louis. Late into the Alberta night in Game Six, St. Louis corralled a rebound and roofed it to stave off elimination and send the series back to Tampa where the Lighting would win the only Stanley Cup in their history.

What made St. Louis such a beloved player in Tampa wasn’t that he scored the goal. It was that he started the sequence by going into the corner and forcing Jordan Leopold to hurry his outlet and set up the turnover at the blue line. Despite his lack of size, St. Louis was always willing to go to the dirty areas and grind out plays with players that towered over him.

Following the Cup victory, he became the emotional leader of the club. Through the tough times of the OK Hockey ownership group to the reemergence of the franchise under Jeff Vinik, St. Louis was the thread that tied the eras together. Not only that, but he continued to produce no matter who he was playing with. He went from learning how to be a leader under Andreychuk to teaching Steven Stamkos. That was why it felt like a such a betrayal when he asked for a trade in 2014.

While in the moment it seemed like such a big thing, as time marches on, it will become less and less important to his legacy. It was always going to be difficult to say goodbye. In some ways, trading him away before his skills deteriorated on the ice was easier then having to decide when to cut him. Sure there was a lot of animosity at the time, but that has faded in the years since.

Two seasons ago, the Lightning organization welcomed him back during an emotional jersey retirement ceremony. It was only right that he was the first player to have his number retired by the club. During the ceremony, everyone spoke about the influence he had on them. Without Marty St. Louis, the team wouldn’t have achieved what they did.

Congratulations to Martin St. Louis, the heart and soul of the Tampa Bay Lightning.