After 13 remarkable years with the Tampa Bay Lightning, that fact often goes unforgotten.
Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings, the player so many franchises passed on skated in his 1,000th career NHL contest.
“It’s a remarkable accomplishment,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Just being part of that, for him at the level he’s continued to play, 1,000 games is crazy. But it goes to show what hard work, desire, work ethic and wanting to be the best, that’s what happens. Prepare like that every single day, and you’ll play 1,000 games and beyond.”
Eligible for the 1993 draft, St. Louis’ name went uncalled through 286 picks at Le Colisee in Quebec City. Listed at a generous 5-foot-9, his lack of size scared off teams.
A professional career delayed, St. Louis built a substantial resume during his time at the University of Vermont.
A NCAA East First Team All-American. ECAC Player of the Year. A two-time finalist for the Hobey Baker award. An average of 1.57 points per game in four seasons with the Catamounts.
Well after graduation and one season with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the defunct International Hockey League, St. Louis inked a deal with the Calgary Flames. He earned ice time on the Flames top line, but more often than not saw fourth-line minutes, or worse yet, a frequent seat in the press box.
The scoring machine from Vermont never materialized in Calgary. In 69 NHL games spanning two seasons, he managed four goals and 14 assists.
The Flames left the winger exposed in the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft. Neither the Minnesota Wild or Columbus Blue Jackets saw value in adding St. Louis.
Having watched Tampa Bay muster no more than 20 wins in the standings each of the last three seasons, then-GM Rick Dudley sought stockpile potential talent to build around Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards.
Dudley took a risk and inked St. Louis as a free agent in 2000. Still, there were doubts. Even in the Bolts’ 2000-01 media guide, St. Louis’ profile was relegated to the section for players in the system. For every St. Louis, there’s a Dan Kesa or Thomas Zeigler, players whose promise never materialized.
But St. Louis only sought to keep a career alive, and in his first season with the Bolts, notiched 40 points despite the team’s second-to-last place finish in the NHL.
Over the next 12 years, he racked up so many assists, points, shorthanded goals and game-winners that he holds the all-time franchise records. His 344 goals are second only to Vincent Lecavalier’s 383, a mark most certainly within reach. St. Louis played the full slate of games in eight of his seasons.
And with a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy as league MVP, a Lindsay Award as the NHLPA’s MVP, two Art Ross Trophies as the NHL’s top scorer and three Lady Byng Trophies as the league’s most gentlemanly player, discussion about St. Louis as a potential hall of famer does not start with “if,” rather “when.”
For all of St. Louis accolades, 1,000 games almost seems like a minor accomplishment.
“He wants to be the first on in drills, first to put the puck on the net,” Cooper said. “It’s a desire. He’s got that fire burning and its as strong as it was 1,000 games ago. It is pretty impressive.”
There’s little doubt playing alongside young forwards keeps St. Louis motivated and working hard. The results are in his numbers. This season the 38-year-old is averaging a point per game.
St. Louis, who earned the title of team captain this season, is signed for one more season. The next contract to be signed will come after his 40th birthday.
For a skater who struggled so long just to play, and still finds success as most his age hang up their skates, it still remains difficult to project just how many more games St. Louis will tack on to his thousand.
Korobov to debut
Dmitry Korobov has been skating with the Lightning since Nov. 12, but Cooper hasn’t found an opportunity to get the defenseman into the lineup.
That is expected to change Thursday, when the 6-foot-3, 230-pound blueliner makes his debut against the Kings.
“That is his strength — he has strength,” Cooper said. “To have a heavy body down there, he can penalty kill, block shots and he’s just a big body down there.”
Cooper noted some Bolts were a little banged up, and others needed to be kept on their toes.
As for the rookie, his NHL debut will sure to be memorable for more reason than one.
“He’ll always get to remember that his first NHL game was the night Marty played his 1,000th.” Cooper said.
Perfection eludes Bolts
A perfect record in the NHL doesn’t quite match that of the NFL, but Tampa Bay was certainly drawing attention for its success against Western Conference teams.
The Bolts entered its current four-game, west-coast trip with a 7-0 mark against Western opponents, outscoring them 33-16 in the process.
The Phoenix Coyotes put an end to Tampa Bay’s undefeated streak, handing it a 6-3 loss Saturday. It marked the highest number of goals the Bolts have allowed this season.
“They probably sniffed that we weren’t playing too well and took advantage of it,” Cooper said.
The defeat hardly fazed Cooper, though, who suggested one of these kind of games had to factor in at some point.
“We’ve played 20 games and I am the farthest thing from disappointed,” he said. “This could have happened in game one, game six, game 10, game 20. I’m looking at the big picture. We’re at the quarter pole and I like the way we’ve played.”
Tweet of the week
The Lightning have given no indication of when Steven Stamkos may return to the lineup. The sniper is back in the Tampa area healing and rehabbing his broken leg, which at the very least, is a positive sign.
Nice to be back home in tampa. Can’t thank all the staff at Mass General enough for all their hard work and dedication the past 4 days !
— The Lightning will honor St. Louis’ achievement of playing in 1,000 NHL games prior to the team’s Nov. 25 contest against the New York Rangers.
— Did you know? St. Louis played his first NHL game in Tokyo, Japan.
— Winger J.T. Brown, called up on Nov. 12 registered his first NHL goal in the loss to Phoenix.
— With his victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 14, Ben Bishop matched his career high in wins with 13, and done so in a rather efficient manner. The goaltender has started in just 16 contests thus far.