Martin St. Louis Returns to Tampa in Midst of Interesting Season with Rangers

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor INovember 25, 2014

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 08:  Martin St. Louis #26 of the New York Rangers skates during NHL game action against the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 8, 2014 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
Graig Abel/Getty Images

Martin St. Louis is a legendary forward whose NHL journey will ultimately culminate in Toronto. No, St. Louis will not be donning blue and white once again by skating with the Maple Leafs—he wore the colors in Tampa—but one day he'll be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

He's defied the odds his entire career, he has the statistics to back it up and he's got plenty of the requisite hardware—Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, league M.V.P., scoring title— that most inductees possess.

CALGARY, CANADA - JUNE 5:  Robyn Regehr #28 of the Calgary Flames rides the back of Martin St. Louis #26 of the Tampa Bay Lightning in game six of the 2004 NHL Stanley Cup Finals on June 5, 2004 at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, Canada.  (Photo by J
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

St. Louis will be there because of his many accomplishments, many of which will be fresh in is his mind as he steps into the Amalie Arena as a visitor.

For the first time of his illustrious career, St. Louis will lace up his skates in a familiar arena without having the luxury of calling the building home. A 2014 trade-deadline deal sent the 39-year-old forward to New York, and since that time it has been an interesting ride for both parties.

Early on it looked like the trade was a bust for the Rangers, because St. Louis failed to produce whereas Ryan Callahan thrived for Lightning during the regular season. Things ultimately turned around and the Rangers went on an amazing run to the Stanley Cup Final, and Callahan and the Lightning were sent home during the first round.

The trade topic was revisited when a gaggle of former Rangers including Callahan returned to Madison Square Garden on November 17.

Tampa Bay trounced the Blueshirts 5-1, and St. Louis was mentioned in a column written by Adam Proteau of The Hockey News. The blog posting was titled "When he left the Lightning for the Rangers, Martin St-Louis made a huge mistake," and it was a topic that spurned a lot of debate on Twitter.

It received a rebuttal from Rangers' writer Neil Keefe of WFAN and CBS.com, and you can go through his line-by-line analysis on Proteau's offering if you are so inclined to do so.

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 11:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning talks to teammate Martin St. Louis #26 during the second period of the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on April 11, 2013 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by S
Scott Audette/Getty Images

I don't want to spend too much time on this, but I will respectfully look at it from the discussed point of view, partially because Wednesday's game will be St. Louis' first back in Tampa.

Proteau's essential point was that St. Louis made the wrong choice, and it is one he could regret because he left a team that is poised for greatness for a team on a downswing. He left a team with a superstar in Steven Stamkos for a team whose tops players—Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash—are 30 and counting.

While there is no denying that the youth movement of the Lightning is promising or that they have a well-rounded roster, there a few things should be considered. 

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 8:   Ryan Callahan #24 of the Tampa Bay Lightning screens goaltender Anton Forsberg #31 of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first period as Anton Stralman #6 of the Tampa Bay Lightning moves in to score on the rebound on November 8
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

For starters, two of Tampa's top players wouldn't be on the current roster if St. Louis stayed. Callahan's re-signing in Tampa played a role in Anton Stralman signing a deal with the team, and it also attracted Brian Boyle. 

Stralman has been Tampa's top defender this season, Callahan has been a consistent top-line winger and Boyle has enjoyed resurgence in Florida as a stabilizing force on the fourth line and PK unit.

The three former Rangers have proven to be a nice fit throughout the lineup, and there is no telling what the roster would look like if St. Louis had stayed in Tampa Bay.

There is also no guarantee that someone like Jonathan Drouin would be on the roster yet, because out of all the young guns on the roster, it is likely that Tampa would have allowed him to continue developing with St. Louis still around.

Many looked at Drouin as a potential St. Louis replacement in due time, and the young forward has certainly lived up to the hype he generated while he was in Halifax. 

In addition, would players like Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and company have been given as large of a role as they have now had St. Louis stayed, and had Stamkos been healthy last season? The above duo enjoyed some amazing success last season, and it is fair to say they benefited from increased ice time.

This is not to knock their play, but it is a situation that needs to be considered when determining whether or not St. Louis made the right choice or not.

There are too many "what ifs?" for my taste, but I can say the following:

Ultimately it is still too soon to tell who won the trade, but it can already be said that St. Louis' departure led to other players getting an opportunity in Tampa. It also is very clear that there is no way St. Louis regrets the deal, or will feel like he made a mistake.

While that is something that Proteau contested, St. Louis himself has done nothing but show that he's fully enjoyed and embraced his new surroundings. 

Just a few weeks ago NBC put out a feature that focused on St. Louis and his sons.

Being closer to his family was a driving force behind St. Louis relocating to New York, and the emotion on his face throughout the package is simply stunning. 

In addition to his visible joy, it is hard to say that he regrets going further in the playoffs in a few weeks with the Rangers than he did in the past 10 years with Tampa Bay. The Rangers are still finding their way early on, but St. Louis has been one of the team's top players.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 03: Matt Hunwick #44 of the New York Rangers (C) celebrates his second period goal against the Chicago Blackhawks along with Anthony Duclair #63 (L) and Martin St. Louis #26 (R) at Madison Square Garden on October 3, 2014 in New Yor
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

His work ethic is contagious, and his mere presence has rubbed off on some of the Blueshirts' youth. In many ways St. Louis has filled the void of the team's sage veteran mentor, because someone needed to step up and fill the void left when Brad Richards was bought out. 

One player in particular that has benefited from St. Louis is 19-year-old prospect Anthony Duclair. "Duke" is a young offensive forward on the smallish side, and having a stabilizing force like St. Louis has been great for his development.

Via Allan Kreda of The New York Times:

"It was dreamlike for me because Marty is one of the guys I’ve looked up to since I was young," said Duclair, who, like St. Louis, grew up in the Montreal area. "He’s such a determined guy, and he had some good tips for me on the power play. He’s definitely a cool mentor to have.”

Off-ice and intangibles aside, St. Louis has been as advertised for the Rangers when it comes to his on-ice play and production.

Entering Wednesday night's matchup, St. Louis has eight goals and nine assists for 17 points in 20 games. St. Louis is also two points shy of the 1,000-point plateau, and he would have been the 81st player to achieve that feat.

It is interesting how things have worked out, because if the Rangers' game vs. the Buffalo Sabres hadn't been snowed out, it is reasonable to believe he would have hit the 1,000-point mark before facing his former team in his former barn.

Hockey is an interesting game where things like fate often are mentioned played up, and the stage is set for the popular Broadway star to deliver another marquee performance.

St. Louis would probably love to set another milestone in a place where he made tons of history, and a dominating performance against his old club would certainly put a damper on the notion that St. Louis is not currently playing for one of the NHL's top teams.

Right now the Rangers' alternate captain remains focused on being one of the Rangers' top forwards, and although it will be an emotional game, Wednesday night will be strictly business for Mr. Martin St. Louis.

Stats via NHL.com.