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Tampa Bay Lightning

Fennelly: Yzerman delivers cruelest 'No' of all

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Published:   |   Updated: January 8, 2014 at 09:46 AM

A few weeks ago, I spoke with Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman. The subject turned to the Olympics, Team Canada. Yzerman is again executive director, having helped build the gold-medal team that won in Vancouver. The subject turned to the selection for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. Yzerman knew precisely what would happen when the team was announced.

“The first 20 questions will be about players who weren't selected,” Yzerman said.

Make it 26 questions, Stevie Y, in big block letters.

How do you leave No. 26, Marty St. Louis, off the Olympic team?

Hasn't this man been told “No” enough in his career?

It was one thing when Hockey Canada, Yzerman in charge, left St. Louis off the Vancouver roster. That crushed Marty — and Yzerman wasn't even one of his bosses yet. Yzerman joined the Lightning after that. He learned about Marty first hand. That he's a champion, ageless, that he's heart and soul.

He stays home.

“I understand where you're coming from,” Yzerman said. “I don't take any joy in this whatsoever, as you can imagine.”

Yzerman broke the news to the Lightning team captain and leader. Yzerman was in Toronto for the team announcement. St. Louis was with the Lightning in Winnipeg, where Tuesday night the projected low was minus-22 degrees.

I bet it was colder on that phone call.

No Marty — again?

“I'm not going to elaborate on how we reach our decisions,” Yzerman said,“but ultimately we come down to 14 forwards who we think give us the best chance to win ...”

I still don't know how these two carry on business as usual. This is beyond awkward. How does Yzerman look St. Louis in the eye? It has to affect their working relationship, right?

“Potentially, yes,” Yzerman said. “All I can do is treat all our players with respect, regardless of the situation, and be straight with them. I'm hopeful that we can overcome this.”

Good luck.

I don't think Yzerman and his selection committee arrived at decisions lightly. And it would be wrong for Yzerman to put St. Louis on the team simply because they both worked for the Lightning. Yzerman is, after all, deciding for a whole country.

I still think this was a bad call.

This isn't some charity case. There's no need for home-team bias. Marty stood out on his merits.

This isn't a lifetime achievement award, some sort of present. The man deserves it.

Marty led the league in scoring last season. Led the league. He's averaging nearly a point a game this season. And there's this: Marty St. Louis has the most points of any Canadian-born player since the 2010 Vancouver Games.

This season, St. Louis picked up his game after Steven Stamkos went down with an injury. Stamkos, provided he is cleared by doctors, will play for Canada.

What team wouldn't be better with Marty on its side? What chemistry set couldn't use Marty in the mix? When it comes to intangibles, Marty is, well, the gold standard.

He has made a living proving people wrong. First it was no, he was too small. Then it became no, he was too old. He was old indeed — the oldest NHL scoring champ. But now he has been told “No” again, and this might be the cruelest No of all.

Maybe doctors won't clear Stamkos or someone else gets injured and St. Louis is added to the Canadian roster. Don't count on it, or on the St. Louis-Yzerman relationship ever being the same, though I'd be shocked to see it spill into St. Louis' play. Like Yzerman, Marty is a professional. He should have been an Olympian.

To me, it isn't even a question.

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