Martin St. Louis inspired all around him in 16 seasons

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If you want to measure Martin St. Louis' impact on those around him, consider this: Within minutes of receiving a text message asking if they had time to talk about St. Louis' retirement announcement, Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Dan Boyle and Steven Stamkos responded immediately.

And they spoke from the heart.

Thursday’s announcement by St. Louis that he was retiring from the NHL after 16 great seasons hit home for those players.

"It definitely does," said Lecavalier. "I played with him for 12 years, what a great teammate and obviously a great friend. It’s tough to see him leave, but I’m happy for him."

Richards, who along with Lecavalier and St. Louis formed the three amigos up front for a Tampa Bay Lighting team that won the Stanley Cup in 2004, talked to St. Louis on Wednesday night and found out then that his friend was calling it quits.

"Vinny I’ve known since I was 14, but besides Vinny, Marty became my best friend in hockey," Richards said. "Getting to know him, just a great guy to be around.

"He was a great role model for everyone in the locker room, because you saw how much he wanted it and how hard he worked to get it."

A role model even for Boyle, who turns 39 on July 12.

"He’s always been one of those guys, even though he’s my age, that I’ve always looked up to," said Boyle. "He keeps you at your best.

"It’s a sad day. He’s closing the book on this chapter. It’s making me realize that my book is about to close also. We all shared something special in '04."

Stamkos is the new leader of a Lightning team knocking at the door of a championship, and while he wasn’t around to share in that 2004 memory, he forged his own personal bond with St. Louis that has left an imprint to this day.

"In terms of the player and person I became today, everything is directly influenced from Martin St. Louis," Stamkos told ESPN.com on Thursday. "You can’t totally express in words what he meant to my career."

Oh, but Stamkos certainly tried.

"I came to Tampa, and he’s a guy that really put me under his wing," said the Lighting captain, who inherited the "C" from St. Louis.

"You heard all the stories about how great he was and how hard he worked, but to actually physically see it as an 18-year-old kid, that really opened my eyes of how hard you have to work and how dedicated you have to be to be an elite player in the league. It just blew my mind. It was easy for me to follow in his footsteps. And he went out of his way to make me feel comfortable. He really taught me what it was to be a pro. I owe a lot to him."

Richards and Lecavalier remember St. Louis arriving in Tampa in 2000, the diminutive skater having to prove his worth after being so casually discarded by the Calgary Flames.

"That was back in the day of a bigger man’s league, so nobody really gave him a chance until Tampa did," said Lecavalier. "As soon as he got that chance, you could tell right away he would play for a lot of years. He had an unbelievable career."

It was a career fueled by proving people wrong.

"He still has a chip on his shoulder, in a good way," said Richards. "I know deep down he still feels he can go out there and make a difference, and that’s a great attitude to have. He never wavered from that. That’s why that second Art Ross Trophy (in 2012-13) at 36 years old is something, because he wouldn’t let anybody talk him into thinking that he couldn’t do it because of his age or his physical stature. That’s Marty. That was right from Day 1."

That work ethic rubbed off on Stamkos, to be sure.

"The stats will speak for themselves, but it’s what he teaches guys other than that," said Stamkos. "That’s what a lot of people don’t get to see. He was almost a perfectionist when it came to wanting to make a play or do the right thing.

"We’d spend hours watching our shifts together [on video], breaking it down and making sure we were on the same page."

Oh, but he had a lighter side, too -- one that people on the outside rarely caught a glimpse of. The tight-lipped, laser-eyed St. Louis who the media and fans saw had an alter-ego once it was just the boys in the dressing room.

"He’s got that fire in his eyes, and everybody probably thinks he’s such a serious guy, he’s probably the biggest joker in the locker room," said Lecavalier, chuckling. "He’s such a funny guy. He’s also maybe the best dancer I’ve seen in the locker room, he liked to pull the moves once in a while."

Added Boyle: "There’s always a certain way you portray yourself in front of a camera, but the guys that know him best are his teammates, and while he definitely had a serious side to him, he also loves to laugh and certainly loves to laugh at his own jokes. Yup, definitely loves to laugh at this own jokes, that’s for sure."

It was no joke when St. Louis asked for a trade out of Tampa during the 2013-14 season, putting general manager Steve Yzerman in a tough spot.

It was hard on everyone involved.

"It was a tough situation, absolutely," said Stamkos. "And for me, I mean, you’re in the middle of it. You have your team to worry about, but Marty is as close a friend as you can get, so you see both sides, you hear both sides, it was so difficult. But I told Marty when he was going through it: 'You make the decision that’s best for you and your family. No one’s going to second-guess you, everyone is going to support you.' That’s how much impact he had not only on me and the guys in the room, but the community in Tampa."

From an unwanted rink rat to a Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP and two-time NHL scoring champion, St. Louis leaves the game without having to prove anything to anyone anymore.

"In my eyes, a future Hall of Famer for sure," said Stamkos. "I’m really proud of him.

"He was a mentor to me and still today a great friend. He had an unbelievable career. I’m just glad I got the time to play with him that I did. I wish it was longer, but what an amazing player and an even better person. I think that’s what he’ll be remembered for.

"It’s really a sad day for hockey."