Martin St. Louis has accomplished so much in his career, that with each and every milestone, comes an additional chance to recognize the Lightning forward’s greatness and begin to wonder about his place in history.
In a game against Florida just 10 days ago, St. Louis notched his 300th career goal in a Lightning uniform to make for a sight that was as remarkable to the near-sellout crowd of 17,841 at the St. Pete Times Forum as it was rare to a select few of NHL legends sitting high above, watching from the press box.
Steve Yzerman was there to witness it from the Lightning management booth.
Phil Esposito saw it, too.
Scotty Bowman was in the house.
Back in the locker room following the game, St. Louis joked that when he was acquired by the Lightning over a decade ago, he would have been happy to even play 300 shifts wearing the Tampa Bay sweater.
After all, he was an undersized and undrafted free agent who was cast off from just one other NHL organization - the only one of 30 which gave him a shot - and even tinkered with the thought of playing in Europe before then-Lightning General
Manager Rick Dudley offered him a contract in the summer of 2000.
Even more impressive than the milestone goal itself was the fact that it came with one team, to which St. Louis quickly changed his expression and set all kidding aside.
“I'm proud to stay I've been on the same team for 11 years now,” he said. “It’s kind of a rare thing you see less and less of in today's game. But, I think me being able to stay here has a lot to do with success and what you bring to the table.
Trying to find your way throughout a career and fight for a spot and for place in this league, that’s something you have to earn every day.”
The numbers tell an incredible story.
Fresh off accomplishing his 300th career goal in a Bolts sweater, as well as his 800th career point on Tuesday night on Long Island, St. Louis has several more opportunities in the upcoming weeks to further cement his name in hockey immortality.
The Lightning forward sits just seven assists shy of reaching the 500-assist plateau for his career. He is expected to appear in his 500th consecutive game on Thursday against the Rangers, which is good for the NHL’s third-longest active consecutive games played streak.
With three years remaining on his current contract following this season, and with a plethora of games still to be played and even more points to be had, St. Louis is already among good company.
Of the 30 NHL clubs, only 11 have at least one player on their roster who has been with the same team for at least 10 consecutive seasons. Of the 700-plus players in the league, there are only 22 who have done so. The Lightning have two of them, adding Vincent Lecavalier to the mix, who has worn the Lightning uniform for 13 straight seasons.
“Staying with one organization doesn't just happen, you have to work at it,'' Yzerman told The Tampa Tribune. “In hockey, you have to be committed to the organization and willing to change and put the team first. In every player's career, the team doesn't meet expectations or the player doesn't meet expectations. There are always decisions management has to make, so for players, you have to put the team first and do whatever you can to help the organization. For Vinny and Marty, they love the organization, they love the community, they are happy, it's their home and they are proud of it.”
Yzerman himself, along with former Red Wings teammate Nicklas Lidstrom, set the standard for longevity with one organization as the pair, to date, have combined to play a total of 42 seasons wearing Detroit’s winged wheel. Yzerman retired in 2006 after 22 seasons as a player, however Lidstrom is currently playing in his 20th season with the Red Wings.
Lightning head coach Guy Boucher added that he has the “utmost respect” for players who are so loyal to one team, even with the high-dollar salaries available to players and the enticing opportunities to win that some clubs provide, while others simply can’t.
“You've got a perfect example of a guy who is here for the right reasons, who has done the job from day one and continues to do it,” Boucher said of St. Louis. “I think Tampa Bay is extremely, extremely lucky to have such an individual. Not just a hockey player, but such a man here.”