The iconic image of Martin St. Louis, blood running down his face in the final moments of Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final, is one Jay Feaster will never forget. Even in that moment, St. Louis had a chip on his shoulder.
“He looks like he wants to chew somebody’s leg off just to win a hockey game,” the former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager said. “That’s what he was all about.”
For 16 NHL seasons, St. Louis defied the odds as an undersized, undrafted winger who became a Hart Trophy-winner and one of the most prolific scorers in the past two decades. On Thursday the 40-year-old announced his retirement from after a career he called an “amazing ride.”
The Laval, Que., native was a seven-time all-star who won the Hart Trophy as MVP once and Art Ross Trophy as leading scorer twice. St. Louis also won the Lester B. Pearson (now Ted Lindsay) Award as the players’ choice as most outstanding player and three times earned the Lady Byng for gentlemanly conduct.
“He’s accomplished everything he could accomplish in the NHL,” close friend and former Tampa Bay teammate Mike Smith said in a phone interview. “He was an undrafted player who was a little guy that had everything kind of going against him, and he just continued to prove everyone wrong.”
St. Louis proved everyone wrong with 1,033 points on 391 goals and 642 assists with the Calgary Flames, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers. He said in a statement he was “blessed to play for 16 years in the NHL.”
The five-foot-eight, 180-pounder helped the Lightning win the Cup in 2004 and was part of Canada’s World Cup-winning team months later. That was the year he won the Hart, Pearson and Art Ross with a league-best 56 assists and 94 points.
Feaster considers St. Louis the heart, soul and conscience of that championship team.
“Marty St. Louis epitomized everything we were about,” Feaster said in a phone interview. “We were the underdogs, we were the misfits, we were the guys that nobody wanted and we always had that underdog mentality. Marty was the leader of that.”
St. Louis was a career underdog, undrafted out of the University of Vermont before the Flames signed him in 1998. He didn’t get his big break until signing as a free agent in 2000 with Tampa Bay, where he developed into premier offensive player.
Yet former Tampa Bay teammate Jeff Halpern said St. Louis “always looked like a guy that was afraid to lose his job.”
“To see that effort out of a star player is something special,” Halpern said.
After bringing the Cup to Tampa Bay in 2004 alongside Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier, St. Louis continued his career with the Lightning and was named captain in 2003. He held that position until he was granted his trade request to the Rangers last year.
St. Louis had 15 points during New York’s 2014 run to the Cup final. He put up 52 in 74 regular-season games this year.
Dominic Moore, who played with St. Louis for the Lightning and Rangers, called him “easily the best teammate” he has ever played with.
“He someone who also just earned everything he got in his career,” Moore said. “Nothing was ever given to him because of his size, and I have a lot more respect for a guy like him who has done it the hard way.”
Halpern said St. Louis only seemed to get better with age.
“I’m shocked that he retired only because ability-wise I always felt like he was one of those guys that could play until he was 45,” Halpern said.
St. Louis was part of Canada’s undefeated gold-medal-winning 2014 Sochi Olympic team as an injury replacement for Steven Stamkos and finished his career with the Rangers. The 40-year-old was an unrestricted free agent and explained his decision as wanting to spend more time with wife Heather and sons Ryan, Lucas and Mason.
“I have dedicated my life to being the best player I could be and now want to turn more of my focus to my three boys,” St. Louis said in a statement. “I look forward to this next chapter of my life and the time I will have with my family.”
In retiring now, St. Louis starts the clock ticking toward consideration for the Hockey Hall of Fame. His inclusion will be debated, but his numbers and accomplishments give him a very strong case.
“I would think so,” Smith said. “I think he played well over 1,000 games over 1,000 points, numerous personal accolades and obviously the Stanley Cup to go along with the rest. I think he’s definitely well on his way to being a member.”