TAMPA — It shouldn't have ended like this.
At the Forum on Wednesday, the ground shook.
It was on every face, even the security man posted at a door.
“This is an awful day,” he whispered.
The Lightning news release had appeared.
Ryan Callahan had been acquired for a conditional second-round draft pick in 2014 NHL draft and a first-round selection in 2015 in exchange for Martin St. Louis.
… in exchange for Martin St. Louis.
Like that, it was over.
A two-hander to this community's skull.
Steven Stamkos, cleared to play.
Marty St. Louis, cleared to leave.
“Well, it's happened, and you still don't believe it,” Stamkos said.
Marty St. Louis should have retired with the Lightning. He should have went from here to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He should have had a special night at the Forum, his 26 retired and raised to the rafters, everyone standing, cheering until their voices were gone.
There eventually will be a night like that, a healing.
Until then, this is one of the truly ugly exits in local sports history, by one of its greatest stars.
Have any parents out there tried to explain to their crying child why Marty St. Left?
He bailed without a real goodbye, though he did compose an open letter to Lightning fans, probably on the way to New York, where he made his Rangers debut Wednesday night.
Like the Bucs and Sapp, Lynch and Brooks, the Bolts' big three has completely vanished.
Brad Richards left a while back, traded away (St. Louis rejoins him in New York). Vinny Lecavalier was bought out last June. And now no more Marty — no Lightning player left from the 2004 Stanley Cup champions. Marty was the last of them.
We could spend days pointing a finger at Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, whose original choice — back when he helped pick Team Canada — began this carnage. Then Yzerman couldn't defuse things when Marty went megaton on him.
You can't say the Lightning are better today. And Yzerman is officially The Man Who Traded Marty. Not the crown you want. If playoff promise dissolves, the GM is a fixed target. And there's no guarantee that Yzerman will be able to sign Callahan after the season.
But we could spend weeks pointing a finger at St. Louis' selfish pride in demanding this trade.
Here was the new captain, anointed at last, just two days before the season began, big ceremony and all, running out on his teammates during his 13th Lightning season. For someone who always played larger then life, it's a small way to leave.
For no player has been bigger in this franchise's history than Marty St. Louis.
It was more than all those games and points, or the Hart Trophy in the Cup season, or the two league scoring titles.
“For me, he was the heart and soul for this team,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said.
I'm thinking back 10 years, to a night in Calgary. The Lightning's dream season was on the edge of a cliff in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. Tied after regulation, then after one overtime, everyone back here holding their breath. The Lightning gulped for air.
It took Marty. Early in the second overtime, pouncing on a rebound and scoring. Calgary's arena went dead. The series lived. The Lightning went home and won it all. It took Marty.
As time ran down in Game 7, two Flames sandwiched Martin St. Louis. He was bleeding from his forehead and the bridge of his nose. And then he was bleeding and carrying the Stanley Cup.
That memory, at least, will never leave.
It shouldn't have ended like this.