By Steve Silverman
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The New York Rangers made it clear at the end of the season that they were not going to bring back Martin St. Louis for the 2015-16 season.
There was little doubt that St. Louis had slowed down in the second half of the season, and he had just one goal in 19 games in the Stanley Cup playoffs. St. Louis was no longer the buzzing bee who zipped around the offensive zone and either took advantage or created opportunities with his quickness and intelligence.
St. Louis knew this himself. He was no longer capable of producing the remarkable results on the ice that he had produced throughout his career, so he decided to retire from the sport he loved.
“I have been blessed to play for 16 years in the NHL; it has been an amazing ride,” St. Louis said in a statement. “I would like to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers organizations and owners for providing me the opportunity to play the sport I love for so many years.”
St. Louis came to the Rangers in a late-season deal in 2013-14 that sent Ryan Callahan to Tampa Bay. The Rangers were hoping that St. Louis still had enough zou-zou to help them get over the top and bring home that elusive Stanley Cup.
They got to the Final last year against the Los Angeles Kings, and while each game was close, the Rangers were not the better team. They dropped the series in five games and there was little that St. Louis could do about it.
He scored two goals in the series but did not register an assist. In previous years, St. Louis would have used his speed to get around the Kings’ physical forwards and burly defensemen. He was no longer capable of creating that kind of magic when the championship was on the line.
So, from a championship perspective, the St. Louis acquisition was a failure. However, he brought energy, commitment and guts to the ice on an every-night basis.
The last part may have been the most important thing that St. Louis had going for him. The 5-foot-7 winger from Laval, Quebec was undersized every step of the way throughout the formative years of his career, and he was told to forget about his hockey dreams. He heard snickers every time he played for a new team or joined a new league.
St. Louis never gave any of those doubters a single grain of credibility. Players, coaches and scouts looked at St. Louis and saw a small player who looked like he would get pounded no matter what level he was at. He was supposed to be too small to play Canadian junior hockey, American college hockey and minor league hockey. The NHL was not even in the picture for the diminutive forward.
The scouts and other observers may have been sure that St. Louis didn’t belong, but his incredible determination never waned as he continued to make progress in his career. He was a dominant scorer at the junior level and in college at the University of Vermont, and while it was tougher sledding when he got to the American Hockey League, he made the adjustment and showed he could score consistently at that level.
After a two-year stint with the Calgary Flames, the Tampa Bay Lightning came calling in 2000-01, and he never took his foot off the gas pedal. Few gave him a chance at being any more than a bit player in the NHL, but he established himself as a star in 2002-03 when he scored 33 goals and added 37 assists.
There were no longer any questions about his size or his ability to play at the NHL level. He was an overwhelming competitor, and it all came to the forefront in 2003-04 when he won the Ross Trophy as the leading scorer in the league with 38 goals and 56 assists. St. Louis was dangerous every time he stepped on the ice, as he scored eight power-play goals, eight shorthanded goals and seven game-winners.
When the Lightning got to the playoffs that year, St. Louis was a game-changing force with nine goals and 15 assists in 23 games. Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup that year, and St. Louis scored perhaps the most important goal. He scored the overtime game-winner in Game 6 at Calgary in the Stanley Cup Final that allowed the Lightning to force a seventh game at home.
That goal was one of four playoff overtime goals he scored in his career. The final one came last year for the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens.
That goal was the last huge moment for St. Louis. He had a brilliant career that included 1,033 points in 1,134 games.
In the modern era, when goals and points are at a premium, that kind of production is remarkable. St. Louis never gave his critics a second thought. He just kept pressing forward every step of the way, and his achievements mean one thing: He will soon be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
When that happens a few years from now, he will become a most deserving honoree.
Size isn’t everything, and confidence, talent and determination will make up for it every time.