PHILADELPHIA — Just when it seemed the Lightning’s mettle had been tested to the max this season, that needle will be pushed further.
Hard to believe that after the long-term loss of Steven Stamkos to injury, dressing as many as 11 rookies at a time, having nine players out because of injury and now the short-term loss of goaltender Ben Bishop, that Tampa Bay could be tested any more this season.
Then along comes snub-gate.
In theory, the exclusion of Marty St. Louis from Team Canada’s Olympic roster should not really have an impact on what takes place in Tampa Bay. But it will. I just don’t see how it won’t.
It’s been a few days since the announcement by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, also the executive director for Team Canada, and St. Louis has not publicly addressed the situation, only saying after Tuesday’s game in Winnipeg that “You can imagine how I feel, I’m obviously disappointed’’ and left it at that. He hasn’t fielded any questions regarding the Olympics since.
On the day Team Canada announced the 2010 Olympic team, St. Louis did speak about his exclusion, saying he thought he had been building up to a point in his career — to play for Canada on Canadian soil in Vancouver — only to be disappointed. It was a crushing blow then, I can only imagine the disappointment he’s feeling this time around. Especially when you consider the final say came from his NHL general manager who sees him play night in and night out, who has seen St. Louis raise his level of play in the absence of Stamkos and leading Tampa Bay to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference standings. Yet Yzerman chose not to take St. Louis to Sochi next month.
Yzerman, who also assembled the 2010 team before taking over the Lightning, had the final trump card and chose not to play it, even though no other members of the executive committee — Peter Chiarelli, Doug Wilson, Ken Holland, Mike Babcock, etc. — would have to deal with the fallout of excluding St. Louis on a national and local level. In a poll on TSN.ca on Wednesday, St. Louis had more than 49 percent of more than 4,500 votes cast to determine the biggest snub for Team Canada.
As colleague Martin Fennelly wrote the day the announcement was made, “This isn’t some charity case. There’s no need for home-team bias. Marty stood out on his merits. This isn’t a lifetime achievement award, some sort of present. The man deserves it.’’
What has to cut even deeper is hearing leaks about some of the rationale for why some others were chosen:
There were concerns St. Louis did not have the speed to keep up with the group Team Canada assembled, yet St. Louis can skate alongside Stamkos and pushes the 23-year-old to keep up at times, while Rick Nash makes the team solely on previous international tournament experience.
Chris Kunitz was chosen because of his “spirit of compete,’’ yet find me somebody who competes harder on a nightly basis than St. Louis.
Team Canada wanted to find some instant chemistry, hence Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh linemate Kunitz; Anaheim teammates Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf; St. Louis Blues defensive pairing Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo yet the committee didn’t think taking Stamkos and linemate St. Louis would add to the chemistry.
Now, with all that out there, how can St. Louis, the Lightning captain and emotional leader for a decade, hold a conversation with Yzerman and not have all those thoughts running through his mind? How can the relationship between general manager and captain ever be the same again?
And what effect will that have on the Lightning going forward?
St. Louis is the ultimate professional and a champion at heart, so he will continue to do what he does best.
But at the end of the day, all those times in his career St. Louis has been told no, he had the chance to prove others wrong. This time around, he can’t.
That has to weigh on his mind, and it will be present any time he sees or speaks to Yzerman.
That will be a major test of this team going forward.