St. Louis prepared for the worst

Martin St. Louis, who returns to Tampa for the first time since asking to be traded, has enjoyed a great run as a Ranger. Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

Martin St. Louis isn't going to pretend he's cooler than cool. When the NHL schedule was announced last summer, he immediately wanted to know when his first game back in Tampa, Florida, would be.

"Yeah, no, I saw it right away, that's one of the first things I was looking for," St. Louis said Monday. "Ironically, it falls on the 26th, which is kind of cool."

Just how cool the Tampa Bay Lightning crowd will be toward No. 26 in his first game back after forcing a trade to the New York Rangers last season certainly remains to be seen Wednesday night.

"I'm not sure, I'm expecting the worst. I'm OK with it, I understand the pain, I guess, that I gave the fans," St. Louis, 39, said. "It was so sudden, I think that sometimes it hurts more when it happens quick. I get how they would see it. But I think with time, and how everything has gone for both sides, hopefully some of those wounds have healed and they appreciate the years that I had there, not so much the time that I haven't been there. We'll see how it unfolds.''

The Lightning are planning to recognize St. Louis' return with a video during the first period, consistent with what they've done for other former players.

But this was no run-of-the-mill trade. This was the longtime pulse of the franchise forcing his way out.

That would be tough enough for any GM, but for the Lightning's Steve Yzerman it took on a whole other level because the root of the trade request was St. Louis' anger at being left off Canada's Olympic team, which Yzerman was overseeing. St. Louis would eventually make it on Team Canada as an injury replacement for Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos, but in his mind, the deed was done: He wanted out of Tampa.

The worst of nightmares was playing out for Yzerman, who certainly got a lot of praise for how he handled things, not to mention sympathy for the situation he was put in. (When reached by ESPN.com Tuesday, Yzerman politely declined to comment.)

The most selfish thing possible would have been for Yzerman to trump the rest of the Team Canada brain trust and force St. Louis on the Olympic team. But anyone who knows Yzerman knows he would never do that. Overruling the sentiments of the coaches and other management staff on Team Canada just to make his life easier in Tampa would have never crossed his mind. It tells you a lot about Yzerman's character and integrity, no question.

But his decision to live with the Canadian brain trust's wishes to leave St. Louis off the original Olympic roster, well, what a powder keg that ignited in Tampa. In fact, it's believed St. Louis' trade requested, relayed to the team by agent Lewis Gross, was made within a week of Canada's original roster announcement. Whispers heading into Sochi were that such a trade request had taken place, but it wasn't confirmed until after the Games were over.

It wasn't the entire reason, but the Olympic snub was certainly a key one, St. Louis said.

"It was part of the equation," said St. Louis, who was also left off the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. "But at the end of the day, it was just time for me to move on for my family and I. We had some great years here. The amount of time that I get to spend time with my family now in New York compared to when I played in Tampa is night and day. I felt it was time. And I felt it was a good time for when they could still get value for me, so I didn't feel I was hanging them out to dry. I felt like they got good value for me, I got a chance to play on a team that went to a Cup finals, I think everything was good for everybody in the end. But first and foremost, at the top of that list, it was good for my family. My kids have their dad around a lot more, he's around for their activities more. I've got three boys who play hockey and they get their dad around more now.''

Martin St. Louis

Martin St. Louis

#26 RW
New York Rangers

2014-15 STATS

  • GM20
  • G8

  • A9

  • PTS17

  • +/--2

  • PIM6

No question, the travel is much easier playing in New York compared to when he was in Tampa, so St. Louis is enjoying the extra time he's had with his family. As far as the way he reacted to the Olympic snub, what was an immaculate reputation around the league given his All-Star career and work ethic took a bit of a hit. He did get the benefit of the doubt from others, given his story as an undrafted, once-waived NHLer who would go on to win a Hart Trophy.

It's what has always made St. Louis tick, the chip on his shoulder that has been his greatest sense of motivation: that people don't believe in him. The Olympic snub was going to make him react only one way, for better or worse.

At the end of the day, it's all worked out for both teams. St. Louis is happy in New York with his family and a Cup finals run last season with his new team. Yzerman, meanwhile, made one heck of a trade under duress at the deadline, getting two first-round picks (in 2014 and 2015) and pending unrestricted free agent Ryan Callahan (whom he re-signed); the Rangers also got Tampa's second-rounder in 2015. Tampa turned the 2014 first-round pick into a pair of second-rounders in a trade with the New York Islanders. They still have the Rangers' first-rounder coming up next June.

Time for everyone to move on. But you better believe Wednesday night will be something else for St. Louis, who needs just two points to hit 1,000 for his NHL career.

"I know it's going to be a different day for me," said St. Louis. "I don't know what kind of emotions are going to come out."