Like most of the Nintendo generation, I grew up a diehard pro wrestling fan. And when I read the Martin St. Louis quote, “I felt it was time to look out for me,” it put me in mind of my youth.
Specifically, I was reminded of the night everyone’s hero, Hulk Hogan, walked purposefully to the ring amid the cheers of several thousand fans only to turn his back on them and join the NWO. I was reminded of the night Bret Hart turned on the United States of America. Dare I say, I was even reminded of the legendary night Shawn Michaels smashed his faithful tag team partner’s face through a plate glass window and put an end to the Rockers. Forever.
Why did our heroes turn on their fans? They all gave the same reason: It was time, they always said, to look out for me.
Ladies and gentlemen, after a week of speculation, on March 5, 2014, Martin St. Louis turned heel on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was a storyline that would have made Vincent K. McMahon proud. Coming into the 2013/2014 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were predicted to fail. By everyone. They were infamously called the “weak sisters” of the Atlantic division by NBC’s Keith Jones. Not a single pre-season prediction by NHL media, that I can find, had them making the playoffs. The season looked doomed.
But then a funny thing happened. They started winning. No one really noticed. And then they kept winning. Still, no one noticed. To those paying attention, the Lightning much resembled the Little Engine That Could, built of a group of talented Nobody You’ve Ever Heard Ofs. But there were two players everyone had heard of – Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos was the eager young apprentice and St. Louis the wise old teacher. Together they pushed the Lightning beyond anyone’s expectations. They beat teams no one in their right mind thought they could beat and they did it often, and convincingly. Stamkos was playing like the best player in the NHL.
Until catastrophe struck. We all watched. Most of us had at least one hand covering our mouths. On November 11, 2013, Stamkos slid into a goal post and gruesomely broke his leg. After trying valiantly to get to his feet, he was finally helped onto a stretcher, helped most notably by his good friend and mentor, Marty St. Louis.
Now, the analysts said, the season was really over. …But then another funny thing happened. The Lightning kept right on winning. Marty St. Louis was playing like an MVP. The team rolled on, struggling at times, sure, but they exceeded everyone’s expectations by miles and miles, led by their diminutive captain, by all accounts one of the classiest and most-loved men in the NHL today.
Meanwhile, Stamkos rehabbed. He worked hard. He prepared for the inevitable day he would return to the Lightning lineup and help them in their final push to get into the playoffs. The Stammer and Marty show would go on.
And then, finally, with the table set for Stamkos’s return, with all Lightning fans finally about to see Stammer and Marty, together again, with all eyes on March 6 and every Lightning fan in existence on their feet, in this exact perfect moment where all was about to be right with the world, Marty St. Louis lurked up behind Steven Stamkos and bashed him over the head with a blue steel chair.
Jim Ross went batcrap crazy.
With Stamkos lying on the ice, saying “Why, Marty? WHY?” Marty St. Louis took hold of the microphone, chair still in hand, and with garbage littering the ring all around him and with children crying in the stands, he said, “You know somethin brother, The Man’s been holdin me down here for too long! Night in and night out I came to the Tampa Bay Times Forum and I gave you everything I had. And what did I get out of it? Sure, sure I got a lot of money, brother. I got the fame and the fortune, Mean Gene. But I put everything I had into this organization and then when it came time for The Man to do me a political favor, brother, he wouldn’t do it. So you know what, brother? No more Mr. Nice Guy. I’m finished lookin out for this piece of trash, Steven Stamkos, just like I’m sick of lookin out for Eric Brewer and Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop. I’ve spent thirteen years lookin out for these Ham N’ Eggers. I’ve spent thirteen years lookin out for all you fat, toothless sweathogs in this fat, toothless stinkhole. But from now on, brother?” He looked cockily to either side, his lip working an Elvis-like sneer. “I’m lookin out for me.”
Okay, so maybe it didn’t go down exactly like that. Maybe there was no steel chair involved, and maybe there were no Brothers or Mene Genes.
But folks, think about how you feel right now. Personally, I feel like I’m nine years old again and I can’t understand why my favorite wrestler has suddenly turned evil. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. So steel chair or no steel chair, the effect is the same.
St. Louis has done little to cushion the blow. In fact, with each explanation he gives, he looks a little more petty, a little more dastardly, and a whole lot less like the guy we thought we knew. He’s making us wonder if we ever really knew him that well at all.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the last couple of days coming up with theories for why this happened, but mostly for why this happened now. Make no mistake, no one’s upset that St. Louis left the Tampa Bay Lightning. Had he waited until the off-season to request/demand a trade, there would have been parades in his honor and shrines to him all over the Tampa Bay Times Forum. I would write an article highlighting all the wonderful things he’s done for the Lightning.
What Lightning fans are upset with is the timing of it. And for that, the timing, we’ve been offered no explanation that makes sense. St. Louis walked out on his team right in the middle of a playoff push, forcing a trade that undoubtedly puts the season in jeopardy. He began, in his own words, “looking out for me.”
In the long-term, the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to survive this. Maybe, someday, if the draft picks work out well, the Lightning may even come out better because of this trade. Bluntly, we got lucky. We got somewhat close to fair value, despite only being given one team to work with.
But it’s hard to look at it like that with so much emotion involved. We were invested, on a personal level, in Marty St. Louis. And that’s why this feels so much like betrayal. He could have been a few short months from leaving Tampa Bay a hero, and instead, because he couldn’t stomach being here for the rest of the season, he’s leaving one of the greatest villains in franchise history.
But like in pro wrestling, for every great villain, there’s always a great hero left in his wake. And that hero, for us, is Steven Stamkos. And right now, after everything that’s happened over the last week or two, I feel luckier than ever to cheer for him.