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Martin St. Louis arrives to work with Blue Jackets

Hockey Hall of Famer to add a new perspective

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

When Martin St. Louis stood up in front of the Columbus Blue Jackets team on Sunday, the Hockey Hall of Famer told team members he'll never be more than a call away. 

To prove it, he wrote his phone number on the white board in the team locker room. 

Head coach John Tortorella hopes some of his players take St. Louis up on the offer. 

"I won't name the players, but I'm having a hell of a time reaching some guys," Tortorella said after the team's return to practice Sunday afternoon. "This isn't months, this is a couple of years now. It's not working, and I'm very frustrated because I haven't been able to reach certain guys in the offensive part of the game. 

"To have a guy like Marty come in, I'll tell you, he stood up in front of the team when I introduced him. He's going to put his number on the board because he's not here every day, and he said, 'If you lack confidence and you just need someone to talk to instead of that guy,' pointing to me, 'call me.' 

"The key thing here, he's played under me for a number of years, and we've gone through some (crap) together," Tortorella added. "So he knows what those guys are going through also, and maybe he can touch them in a different way and reach them." 

So began St. Louis' new role as a special teams consultant for the Blue Jackets, a role to which the former NHL star and Stanley Cup winner was hired to last week when the team was on its winter break. As the team reassembled in Columbus on a cold but sunny winter day Sunday, St. Louis was on the ice for the 45-minute session. 

The team didn't yet practice the power play, instead working on a number of high-speed, fast-paced drills designed to get the blood moving after a full seven days away. The special teams work will come tomorrow, and St. Louis is expected to chip in and try to help a power-play unit that finished 25th in the NHL a season ago and is 27th this season. 

But more than that, St. Louis is around to serve as an extra voice and another set of eyes. He'll make suggestions about strategy when it comes to the power play, but he's also another person players can reach out to for advice. 

"What a valuable asset to have for all of us," captain Nick Foligno said after practice. "For me, just him being an experienced guy, a leader for a long time, I can't help but learn from a guy like him. I'm excited to dig in and learn as much as I possibly can from a guy I can learn so much from." 

St. Louis is expected to be with the team for the next few days before returning to Connecticut, where he lives with his three children and serves as a youth coach.  

The job opportunity came up after a number of conversations with Tortorella, who spent seven seasons as St. Louis' coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning, including the 2004 Cup campaign. 

Speaking with BlueJackets.com last week, St. Louis said, "I'm very appreciative of the opportunity that he's given me at a time that he knows and I know that I'm not ready to do this full-time as a day-to-day guy, but I can help from a distance.   

"I know I'm going to have to come in every now and then but I would love to be able to share my knowledge from my experience and add something good to what's already a great group of players and staff."  

Tortorella said he spoke with assistant coach Brad Larsen, who runs the power play, and said Larsen is "all in" with the addition. 

"This isn't Marty coming in and thinking that he's going to change it here, that he's the answer," Tortorella said. "It's just a different voice, a different look sometimes. When he sees certain plays, sometimes he may see it differently. But Lars, he just wants us to be the best we can be as a team, and this is a part of our team that hopefully in this last 30-plus games that we can get more consistent there." 

A six-time All-Star in his 17-year career, St. Louis registered 391 goals, 642 assists and 1,033 points in 1,134 games with Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames. Of those points, 101 were power-play goals, so it's fair to say he brings a wealth of experience having worked with a man advantage. 

"I think the biggest thing in the conversations I've had with him is he just reads plays," Tortorella said. "His anticipation skills as an offensive player are off the charts. When you get to be on the power play with one less body on from the opponent, he's just reading the ice as far as what the next play is going to be.  

"We've talked the past couple of weeks, just sitting down with myself, Lars, him and (Brad Shaw), and it's about reading the defense. It's about not being afraid to make a play through that defense, knowing where that next play could happen if you make that play. So he sees things differently, as all players do from coaches." 

Tortorella said he wouldn't have brought just anyone in to help the cause, but his extensive time coaching and working with St. Louis helped convince him this was a move that could pay dividends for the Blue Jackets. 

Not only was St. Louis a great player, he's someone who is naturally inquisitive about the game and studies it. All of it combined makes him a perfect choice to bring into the mix for a team battling for a division title and a playoff bid. 

"I'm really excited about it," Tortorella said. "He's more excited about it than anybody. He really thinks he can help." 

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