When the helmet comes off after a tough early April morning skate in Denver, the touches of gray around Martin St. Louis' temples are hard to miss. But if anyone can pull off that “distinguished older look,” it might be the New York Rangers’ latest big acquisition. This is not just another graybeard in a Blueshirt.
St. Louis is 38, and while he’s starting to look it, he’s still not playing like it. Well, there has been something of an “adjustment period” with the Rangers since coming over from the Tampa Bay Lightning in a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline.
It took him 15 games to score his first goal as a Ranger, in an April 1 3-1 win at Vancouver. Two days later, after that morning skate at the Pepsi Center where the Rangers were to take on the Colorado Avalanche that night, some of that old, defiant St. Louis confidence seemed to be returning.
“I feel like it’s going to start coming together now for me,” said St. Louis, whose stormy departure from Tampa Bay after nearly 13 seasons has been one of the NHL’s biggest stories of the year. “I’m starting to feel more like a part of this team now and I feel like some good things are going to happen.”
That game with Colorado? Let’s move on. St. Louis was a minus-two, on the ice for the Avalanche’s only two goals in regulation, in a 3-2 shootout loss in which he also was foiled in the best-of-three by Semyon Varlamov.
Still, the Rangers got a point, and they’ve been getting points since St. Louis came along—even without many contributions from him. The Rangers went 10-4-2 in their first 16 with St. Louis in the lineup, something that wasn’t just a coincidence, says his current and former teammate, Dominic Moore.
“When he came to us, I was so excited,” said Moore, who played with St. Louis in Tampa Bay from 2010-12. “He brings leadership and character. I’ve never played with anyone like him. He’s as good a person off the ice as he is a player."
St. Louis’ reputation as a person took a hit in some quarters because of the trade, however. He was branded as selfish for being unhappy at a previous snub for the Canadian Olympic team by his own NHL general manager, Steve Yzerman. Despite being named as Steven Stamkos’ replacement on Team Canada and winning a gold medal, he apparently still had ill feelings. He asked for a trade, and got it, to a team and city he had always wanted to experience.
St. Louis prefers not to talk about the recent past in Tampa, calling it “old news.” He’s much more interested in talking about his transition to the Rangers, a team he genuinely believes can win a Stanley Cup.
“We’ve got a really good team here. We’ve got a great goalie in Hank (Henrik Lundqvist), some real good young players and some other guys with experience like me who can complement those guys,” St. Louis said.
St. Louis is well-aware his scoring numbers have been too low with the Rangers. In the first 16 games, he had just the one goal and three assists. He had 61 points (29 goals) in 62 games with the Lightning. But he finished the regular season strong, with four points (all assists) in Rangers wins over Carolina and Buffalo.
It may sound trivial, but St. Louis said one of the biggest things he’s had to adjust to playing in New York has been the commute to Madison Square Garden. In Tampa, he could breeze to and from the rink in 10 or 15 minutes. It’s been longer “going in and out of the city” on game days, he said, from his family home in Greenwich, Conn.—about a 48-minute drive on days with normal traffic. Normal traffic doesn’t happen very often in New York City.
He’ll adjust to that commute perhaps for the playoffs (many teams stay in hotels in the playoffs, even at home, to cut down on distractions), and he’s eager to prove to the tough critics of New York that his acquisition was worth it.
He can’t wait for the postseason, something he hasn’t experienced since 2011, when he posted 10 goals and 10 assists in 18 games and came within one overtime goal of going to his second Stanley Cup Final in seven years (he won a Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004).
“I can bring some poise and some experience for the playoffs,” St. Louis said. “I can bring my game in to the structure that they play here. I’m still adjusting, but I know I’m going to get there.”
Is anyone going to doubt the words of a 5'8", 180-pound player, one who they said would never even play in this league? If St. Louis thinks he can do something, bet on it.
“He’s going to make his presence felt here, I can promise that,” Moore said.