DALLAS — What a shock to the system this week turned out to be in Lightning land.
Rumors, speculation and innuendo turned into a full-out controversy when captain Marty St. Louis offered a non-denial response to questions regarding reports he requested a trade after he was left off the Canadian Olympic team, headed by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.
The merits of the validity of the reports no doubt have been debated by fans.
But what will the ramifications be if even the hint that St. Louis wants out is true? How will fans react? How will the team react?
Inside the room, at least publicly, everybody is saying the right things, that it won’t be a distraction. Rumors around the trade deadline pop up all the time and no team is immune to them. So in some ways, players are accustomed to dealing with hearing names bantered about in trade scenarios — it’s just part of the business.
But since Jan. 7, when the Olympic rosters were announced, Tampa Bay is 9-8-1 after going 25-13-4 before Jan. 7, lending to questions about whether the record correlates.
And what about the fans who have cheered for St. Louis for more than a decade, who have followed his underdog-to-champion rise?
Those same fans who were as outraged as St. Louis was when he was left off the Canadian Olympic roster.
What will their reaction be, assuming St. Louis is still with the team, when the Lightning return home on Thursday to face the Buffalo Sabres?
Will they continue to cheer on one of the most popular players in franchise history with the same zeal as always? Will he be the conquering Olympic gold medalist returning home?
Or will they look at the alleged trade request as St. Louis turning his back on the fan base?
Based on the reactions I received on Twitter and the comments left on TBO.com in the days after the news came out, there has been more negative reaction than support.
“If this is true, then I say goodbye and good riddance, because that kind of attitude is selfish and a dark stain on everything you have accomplished in your career. ... If it is not true, then stand up for the team and say so,” was one comment left on the Web site by Derek Walters.
There were also some comments in support of the Lightning captain.
“Rumor or not, if I were Marty I would find a way to get out of Tampa. The disrespect put forth by (Yzerman) would be hard to swallow,” was posted by Danny Red Smith.
“I know Marty is a pro and will handle whatever happens with dignity.”
That certainly has been the case on the ice as none of this has affected his play. St. Louis has always been a gamer and shows up to play no matter what is going on around him. He reeled off points in 10 consecutive games after the Olympic exclusion, which is right around the time the alleged trade request was made. St. Louis scored twice in his first game after the report was made public and has points in 17 of 18 games since he was initially left off the Canada roster.
And for the first time in a while, St. Louis exhibited some emotion and wore a smile after scoring a goal on Saturday.
How all of this plays out in the coming days, or possibly the coming months, is unclear.
What is clear, however, is that regardless of whether there is validity to the reports — and where there is smoke, there is usually some sort of fire — it has put a stain on a legend’s legacy and put some strain on the team for which he serves as its captain.