BRANDON — It was a Wednesday practice he didn't need to make, what with his long trip back from the Olympics, gold medal in tow, and now a week-long road trip ahead. Meet us at the airport. That was Lightning coach Jon Cooper's suggestion. But there was Marty St. Louis, first on the ice. The captain was back with his guys, smiling, joking, ageless.
“He looked like a kid out there,” Cooper said.
But there's the other Marty these days, seemingly so un-Marty. It sounds childish, but it's not kid stuff. It's enough to wreck this Lightning season and damage St. Louis' legacy.
After practice Wednesday, St. Louis could have canceled the soap opera. He could have doused the fire, speculation about him wanting out of Tampa Bay, demanding a trade, being in a New York (Rangers) state of mind. He could have stopped the nuclear winter with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who helped snub St. Louis off Team Canada the first time around.
That was nearly two months ago. Yes, Marty could have sent all of that packing with a few words:
I want to be here.
He didn't come close.
“The only thing I can say about that is I've had conversations with Steve about my future here,” St. Louis said. “Out of respect to my teammates, I think that's all I'm going to say about that. I'm not going to get into answering this question every day. I've had conversations with Steve about my future here. Those conversations are between me and Steve.”
What St. Louis didn't say said everything.
So it's out there and it's real.
Maybe it all blows over, maybe not.
But St. Louis is officially a distraction, by his choosing, up until next week's trade deadline. After, too.
Yzerman and the Lightning don't want to trade St. Louis. They'd look awful if they did.
Well, St. Louis would look worse. He'd look selfish.
He's finally Lightning captain, after all these years, and he's going to run out on a potential playoff season? With Steven Stamkos about to return? St. Louis has always led by example. Well, it's time to set another one. He has teammates who admire him and depend on him. He's forgetting that in the name of his wounded pride.
That's not what captains do.
I wanted St. Louis on Team Canada all along and thought Yzerman should have included him. I knew he'd pay for it, even after Stamkos' injury kept him from the Olympics and Yzerman added St. Louis.
You'd think that gold medal around St. Louis' neck would ease the strain.
Marty needs to suck it up here.
If he wants out this summer, well, fine.
Just not now.
That would go against everything he has stood for in his career.
You don't abandon your team in the middle of a season, especially one filled with possibilities. It would be no way for St. Louis, the greatest Bolt of all, to leave a town where he made a hockey champion.
“I guess if you watch that practice today, and watched how much fun he was having out there, for people to say that Marty doesn't want to be on this team, I don't buy it for a second,” Cooper said.
Maybe this blows over. Maybe St. Louis gets back to playing with Stamkos, gets a new taste of playoff hockey and all is well all over again.
Only right now there are two Martys at play.
There's the grateful gold medalist and there's the prideful star. There's Marty, first on the ice at a practice he could have skipped, all in. But for now, there's also the Marty who can't move past that snub, who really might want out, and who for the moment is putting himself ahead of his teammates.
That's not what captains do. That's not Marty St. Louis, either.