ST. PETERSBURG — In the end, the choice was simple.
Marty St. Louis is the new Lightning captain.
The announcement was made Tuesday night during a meet-the-team function at the Mahaffey Theatre.
With Dave Andreychuk — captain of the 2004 Stanley Cup championship team — standing on the stage, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper called out St. Louis' name as the ninth captain in franchise history, much to delight of the fans packed into the theater, before handing St. Louis his newly minted jersey with the “C” on the chest.
“This is one of those days that I will remember forever,” St. Louis said. “It's probably the nicest accomplishment that you can have, I feel, being the captain of an NHL team. Not many people get to do that, so to get to do that is something that I will remember forever.”
Steven Stamkos will serve as one alternate captain while Matt Carle and Nate Thompson will share the role, wearing the “A” on a rotating basis home and away.
St. Louis has been with the Lightning since signing as a free agent prior to the 2000-01 season. He turned into a pillar for the team on the ice, becoming an emotional leader who helped guide the team through the highs of winning a Stanley Cup to the depths of the standings during tumultuous times.
But through it all, the 5-foot-9, two-time scoring champion — told by so many in his life he would never make it in the NHL — now owns one of the highest honors an NHL player can hold.
“I've felt throughout my career that I had some leadership qualities, and as you get older you learn about them a little more because you are put in different situations,” St. Louis said. “And people say you are born a leader, but I think you have to experience a little bit before you actually know if you can be a leader or not. But first and foremost that is setting the example and the way I play the game, I don't think that's going to be a problem for me.”
That example is something Stamkos — the likely heir apparent to the captain role — noticed since his rookie year in 2008. Through the past five years, Stamkos has looked to St. Louis as the guy who sets the tone, and he has followed that lead.
“Everyone, I think, knew what the right choice was,” Stamkos said.
“You couldn't ask for a better guy to lead this team. Marty is a guy that I have looked up to since Day One and continue to to this day. And I think anybody that comes to this organization does the same thing. So in my eyes, it was a pretty easy choice.”
But Cooper, who entered his first Lightning training camp this year, wanted to have an open mind as to who would be selected as captain. As camp went on, the choice became pretty clear, though he didn't say it was easy.
“We took the captaincy naming very seriously,” Cooper said. “Did we end up going with the front-runner? We did. But there were a lot of deserving candidates. In some of my time, the thing that sold it for me, this has been Marty's team for a little while, and if you look at some of the guys that are coming up, and it's soon to be Stammer's team at some point, I just think this is a natural progression.
“And in the end, I think Steven Stamkos would have been disappointed if we would have named him, and not that he wouldn't have wanted it, I think Marty has just done a lot of things for (Stamkos) in his career and Steven has prospered.
“In the end it was between those guys and it was a tough decision. But between all of us, at this time, it was the right one and we were united on it.”