For the past few months there has been a lot of drama surrounding Martin St. Louis, one of the most high-profile and respected forwards in the NHL. A culmination of events led to St. Louis requesting a trade out of Tampa Bay, and yesterday Lightning GM Steve Yzerman granted his wishes and dealt him to the New York Rangers.
Both Yzerman and St. Louis declined to state the reasons why it came to this, as both parties opted to take the high road and move on. That was sort of expected if you’re at all familiar with the two, both are ambassadors to the sport, and have zero history of mud-flinging in the public eye.
Much has been made of St. Louis’ perceived snub from being selected to the Canadian Olympic hockey team earlier this year, a team headed by his-then GM Steve Yzerman*. While St. Louis eventually made the roster thanks to an injury to Steven Stamkos (his-then teammate), the consolation of making the squad and yielding a gold medal didn’t deter St. Louis from ultimately forcing a trade.
Multiple reports alledge that St. Louis requested a trade well before the Olympic roster selection. Perhaps the Olympic snub was in response to St. Louis’ demands, or the snub was the straw that broke the camel’s back for St. Louis. We’ll never know.
One thing is clear: there was a large rift between St. Louis and Yzerman. St. Louis was the captain of the Lightning, a team he spent almost 14 years playing for. He raised a Stanley Cup for Tampa Bay in 2004. The Lightning are currently a competitive club with a shot at another Cup, so this is not a situation where a veteran just wants another shot at winning elsewhere. Up until the surprise trade request, St. Louis appeared to have a strong affinity for both the franchise and city.
Tracing things back to 2010 when Yzerman inherited the GM seat for Tampa Bay, St. Louis appeared to be getting along with the new GM, signing a new 4-year contract worth $22M (with $3M in bonuses). At the time the contract appeared to be a big win for St. Louis, and a strong statement move for Yzerman looking to set the tone for his franchise going forward.
In the four years since, things fell apart. And while much has been made of the recent Olympics snub, I feel there are more angles to the story. Here are some theories:
1. Yzerman buying out Vincent Lecavalier last year was a move detested by St. Louis. Fans and media immediately think of self-serving reasons that revolve around a player asking to be traded, but is it so far-fetched to think St. Louis might take umbrage with the treatment of one of his closest friends and teammates? When St. Louis re-signed in 2010 it was with the expectation that LeCavalier would be there for the duration of his contract.
2. Maybe St. Louis wanted a compliance buyout last season. Okay this theory is selfish in nature, but it wouldn’t surprise me if St. Louis wanted the same treatment as LeCavalier. It could have went down as an ultimatum: if he goes I go. Instead Tampa Bay used their other buyout on Vinny Prospal.
3. St. Louis feels swindled by his current contract. Looking at St. Louis’ production in the four years since re-signing, it’s become clear he’s been an absolute steal for the Lightning. Perhaps he gave the team a hometown discount, contingent on keeping the team’s core intact? Since signing the dotted line St. Louis has seen other players get comparable or bigger contracts (Filpulla, Purcell, Malone). Yes it sounds petty, but St. Louis was a marquee player for the franchise, second to only Steven Stamkos.
There are a host of other issues that could be deemed petty: arguing over the captaincy, playing time, not enough Dr. Pepper in the vending machine, and on and on. Whatever the causes, the ownership has backed Yzerman and it all came to a head with St. Louis heading for New York.
For longtime fans seeking answers and not getting any, whatever happened behind the scenes must have been very ugly to chase one of Tampa Bay’s most beloved players away from the franchise he has given so much to. Looking at how Patrick Roy went nuclear in front of everyone in Montreal prior to asking for a trade almost 20 years ago, perhaps it’s best we don’t know in order to be spared from years and years of bitterness.
* It should be noted that the Canadian Olympic team selection was not solely left to Yzerman, but a committee.