Earlier today, Martin St. Louis announced his retirement from hockey. A day after only a couple of teams showed interest in signing him, the 40-year old proud father of three decided to hang up the skates after 16 seasons. The Rangers made the announcement on Twitter.
St. Louis will be remembered for being a classic overachiever. Unlike many players who get drafted and have spots handed to them at the start, the pint sized 5-8, 176-pound St. Louis had to work extremely hard just to make the NHL. Following a four-year collegiate career at Vermont, he was signed by the Flames. He spent most of his Flames career in the minors until getting a chance in ’99-00 when he had three goals and 15 assists in 56 games. He totaled 20 points in 69 games before Calgary gave up on him.
On July 31, 2000 he was signed by the Lightning. This time, he made the most out of his second chance becoming the franchise’s all-time scoring leader with 953 points (365-588-953) in 972 games. St. Louis also leads the franchise in assists (588), shorthanded goals (28), game-winners (64) and overtime winners (10).
He’ll always be remembered for winning the Hart in the Lightning’s championship season of ’03-04. That year, St. Louis won the Art Ross Trophy with 38 goals, 56 assists and 94 points with a plus-35 rating. He also won the Lester B. Pearson. Topping it off was a brilliant postseason in which he tallied nine goals and 15 assists for 24 points in 23 games to help lead the Lightning to a Stanley Cup. His most memorable moment came in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against Calgary. With his team facing elimination, he scored at 33 seconds of the second overtime to force a deciding Game 7 which the Bolts would win 2-1. The highlight reel goal can be seen above. A determined St. Louis going to the net and finding a rebound past Miikka Kiprusoff. I was at my old job SportsTicker in Jersey City for that.
From 2000-14, St. Louis had a wonderful Lightning career. His best statistical season came in ’06-07 when he registered a career best 43 goals and 102 points. But the Lightning were eliminated in the first round even with St. Louis notching eight points (3-5-8). In a 14-year career with the Bolts, he went over the 90-point mark four times including back-to-back with 94 in ’09-10 and 99 in ’10-11.
Most astonishing is that despite being the smallest player on the ice, he didn’t miss many games. Between ’06-07 and ’10-11, St. Louis played all 82 each season while producing 458 points (158-300-458) in 410 games averaging 1.12 points-per-game. At the end of that run, he had 10 goals and 10 helpers for 20 points in 18 postseason games when the Bolts made it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final before losing to the eventual Cup champion Bruins. In the shortened season of ’12-13, St. Louis won his second Art Ross leading the league in scoring with 60 points (17-43-60). He played in all 48 but they missed the playoffs for a second straight year.
It was during ’13-14 when he was having another big season leading the Bolts in scoring when he requested a trade to the Rangers. He came under fire with many in the media criticizing him due to a dispute with Tampa GM Steve Yzerman over not being selected to Canada for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. He was left off the roster until Yzerman put him on as a replacement. The bitter divorce resulted in the first ever captain for captain trade with St. Louis going to the Rangers for Ryan Callahan. The deal also involved picks with the Rangers coughing up two first rounders while the Lightning sent back a second round pick. The Bolts also received a 2015 seventh round pick completing the trade.
Retirement was always a possibility for St. Louis, who wanted to be closer to his Greenwich, Connecticut home and family. However, he’ll always be fondly remembered in New York City for the mental fortitude he showed after Mom France suddenly passed away at 63 during last year’s playoffs. After the Rangers lost in ugly fashion at home to the Penguins falling behind three games to one in the second round, it would’ve been easy for St. Louis to skip Game 5 and be with his family back in Laval, Quebec. Instead, he wanted to play because that’s what his Mom would’ve wanted.
What became apparent is the team rallied around St. Louis by winning Game 5 easily 5-1 to send the series back to MSG for Mother’s Day. Sunday, May 11, 2014 will be forever remembered by Garden Faithful. Along with my Dad, Justin and his buddy Mike, we were fortunate enough to be in the building for Game 6. Fittingly, St. Louis scored early to give the Rangers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. When he scored that goal, the place went bananas. Between his reaction and the Garden, there was no way they were losing. A Carl Hagelin goal and Derick Brassard tally along with 37 big saves from Henrik Lundqvist guaranteed a Game 7. They would go on to complete their first ever 3-1 comeback by edging the Pens 2-1. Appropriately, St. Louis had a hand in Brad Richards’ power play series clincher setting it up. They teamed up to win the Cup in Tampa and weren’t done after an exciting second round comeback.
After getting the jump on the Canadiens by taking the first two games convincingly at Bell Centre, the Rangers got a better challenge from the Habs who were minus number one goalie Carey Price. Following Alex Galchenyuk’s OT winner in Game 3, P.K. Subban’s power play goal two minutes into the third period forced another overtime between the Original Six rivals. With the Eastern Conference Final hanging in the balance, St. Louis provided this special moment below.
The smallest man with the biggest heart didn’t miss going top shelf on Dustin Tokarski sending pumped up teammates off the bench and MSG into bedlam. That clutch goal from Marty put the Blueshirts within one game of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Let’s be honest. If he doesn’t score there and they don’t win, I doubt they make it. The Habs would’ve had all the momentum. Good thing it didn’t come down to that because we all know how Montreal blitzed Lundqvist in Game 5. But in Game 6, all it took was a goal from Dominic Moore late in the second to win 1-0 behind 18 saves from Lundqvist in about as perfectly played a home game. Still the most exciting moment I’ve experienced as a fan.
Of course, it didn’t have a happy ending like most Hollywood scripts. The Kings were too powerful prevailing in a long five-game series that felt more like seven by the time Alec Martinez scored in double overtime. The Rangers lost all three games in sudden death at Staples Center blowing leads in each. It still burns.
St. Louis’ final season was up and down but he still pumped in 21 goals with 31 assists totaling 52 points in 74 contests. The 21 markers tied him with Chris Kreider for second behind Rick Nash (42). St. Louis’ 52 points ranked fourth in team scoring. Even though he struggled badly in the postseason scoring his only goal against his former team in Game 4 of the Conference Final, the Rangers must replace his production. They’ll look to J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes and bank on Kreider to continue his development.
For his 16-year NHL career, St. Louis finishes with 391 goals and 642 assists totaling 1,033 points in 1,134 games. In 107 playoff games, he had a respectable 42 goals and 48 helpers for 90 points winning one Cup and leading two different teams to the Stanley Cup Final. Four different times, he reached the Conference Finals. St. Louis is a two-time Art Ross winner with a Hart, Pearson and three Lady Byngs. He should be a first ballot Hall Of Famer.
Even if it didn’t end the way he would’ve liked, this was the right decision. It was hard watching him struggle this past Spring. He was missing shots he used to bury in his sleep and guilty of several turnovers that forced coach Alain Vigneault to sit him for a crucial stretch against the Capitals in Game 7 of the second round. It definitely hurt his pride. St. Louis was a hard competitor who wanted to be out for each shift. It couldn’t have felt good getting replaced by Miller on the second line.
In reflecting back about his brilliant career, I’m amazed at how tough St. Louis was. He was a gamer who didn’t miss many games and took a lot of punishment in the old NHL to win a scoring title, MVP and Cup in the final season before the lockout. The odds were stacked against him. Not every small player can succeed in this league. Especially back then when the rules were more lax allowing clutching and grabbing. St. Louis was Theoren Fleury without the snarl. He never quit on plays which is why he got so much out of his career.
Rather than critiquing now retired former GM Glen Sather for the St. Louis trade, I’m thankful because he helped teach our players how to prepare and win. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to reevaluate it. There is no trip to the Stanley Cup Final last year without Marty. Even if Slats rolled the dice for the short-term, it was a success with the team going deep twice. No one could’ve predicted what happened in Game 7. Sometimes, those things just happen.
Congratulations to Martin St. Louis on a wonderful career. A lock for the Hockey Hall Of Fame! Thank you No. 26.