Unless Steve Yzerman is contacted by one of the other 29 NHL general managers and offered a deal he can’t refuse, chance are good he’s about done with any significant off-season acquisitions, and will look to round out the remaining roster spots with players from the Bolts AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch.
Current Syracuse players such as Richard Panik, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, J.T. Brown and Brett Connolly should be given ample opportunity to compete for one or two spots on the forward lines, while Brian Lee, Mark Barberio, Matt Taormina and Andrej Sustr will get consideration on the blueline.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Yzerman said of those hopeful to make the Bolts roster during training camp and pre-season. “I hope that they sense that. Some of them have played two full years in the minors and done very well. I have to give them an opportunity to take a step forward right now.”
Certainly a youth movement is afoot in the St. Pete area, and the Lightning seem to have the right man behind the bench for this undertaking. Jon Cooper knows a thing or two about handling players of this age, leading the AHL Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup in 2012 and the Crunch to a record of 39–18–3–5 at the time of his call-up to the NHL squad last March 25. He has led these players to success there and will no doubt expect nothing but the same effort and results in Tampa.
But any team going through growing pains still need a veteran presence, someone who has been with the organization for several seasons and is ready to provide a positive example to the youngsters, both on and off the ice. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, that man looks to be 38-year old Martin St. Louis.
St. Louis — who is second oldest on the Tampa Bay roster only to defenseman Sami Salo, who will turn 39 next month — will be looked upon to once again provide the points production and consistent hard play night in and night out as he has over the course of the last 12 season for the Bolts. Even though Tampa Bay suffered through a disappointing strike-shortened season last spring, he was still able to put up quality numbers: 17 goals and 43 assists during the 48 games played. This production was posted in quite the consistent manner as well as he netted 12 points in January (six games), 13 in February (14 games), 18 in March (14 games) and 17 in April (14 games). All this following a 2011-12 season in which his production fell 25 points from the 99 total he accumulated the year prior.
Having the newly acquired Valtteri Filppula from the Detroit Red Wings in whom to feed puck will surely help matters for St. Louis. Filppula was brought on to help fill the void left in the wake of Vinny Lecavalier’s departure last month.
But offensive numbers tell only part of the St. Louis story. He was forced into a checking-line role by the Calgary Flames, the team he first broke into the NHL with back in the fall of 1998. He points to this experience for completing his game and making him a better all-around player.
“I played a true third-line role, (in Calgary), killing penalties and playing against the other team’s top lines”, St. Louis said in a Michael Farber Sports Illustrated article in March of 2004. “For me, it was like a five-month crash course on developing my defensive game. My whole life, I had been an offensive player, and suddenly I was in the role of trying to be smart without the puck. I think those fifty-six games helped me develop into a complete player.”
Another aspect to his game is his work ethic, something the younger players around him will do good to try and emulate. Let’s be honest here, St. Louis doesn’t exactly have the blessing of size to use as his advantage. Listed at 5-foot-8 and weighing in somewhere around a buck and three-quarters, he is one of the most height-challenged players in the league. However, he more than makes up for that with his quickness and puck-sense while on the ice.
Also, there is that quality which cannot be found simply by a measuring tape: heart. His dogged determination and passion for the way he plays his game more than makes up for his diminutive statue. As Hockey Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman once said of St. Louis, “His long suit is his passion. Small players have to have some special attribute that makes them stand out. He’s got great acceleration and hockey sense.”
And finally, there is his durability. He has been able to remain healthy so he can show up for work on a consistent basis. St. Louis has missed only seven games between 2002 and 2012 and played in all 48 scheduled in 2013.
He will be entering the third year of a four-year contract extension which will pay him around $5.5 million. Yzerman cited St. Louis’ importance to the organization when announcing the signing: “Marty means so much to this franchise, both on and off the ice. His hard work and dedication are unsurpassed and we are thrilled that he will finish his career here in Tampa Bay.”
While Yzerman points out the exciting opportunity the younger players will enter into once training camp opens up, St. Louis could very well also be skating into a situation where his speed and ability to find the net and open teammates could also prove very exciting for the Lightning and their fans this fall.