TAMPA -- Martin St. Louis will have his No. 26 retired by the Tampa Bay Lightning in a ceremony held before a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena on Jan. 13.
St. Louis, a two-time NHL scoring champion, will be the first player in Lightning history to have his number retired.
"It's an unbelievable honor," St. Louis said Thursday. "It's humbling, it's flattering. I don't think you break in the League to see your number up there."
St. Louis signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent on July 31, 2000, after playing parts of two seasons with the Calgary Flames. He admitted he chose the Lightning because they were near the bottom of the standings and he figured it was his best chance to get playing time.
"Tampa [Bay] was not a very good team at that time, and for me it was like, 'If I can't play there, where can I play?'" St. Louis said. "The fact that I was able to slowly get going and once I got going I just got a lot of momentum. I was lucky to be surrounded by great players and coaches that believed in me."
Video: The Lightning will retire No. 26 on January 13, 2017
St. Louis joined forwards Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Fredrik Modin, defenseman Dan Boyle and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin as the Lightning core under coach John Tortorella, now coach of the Blue Jackets. They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2003 for the first time in six seasons and won the Cup in 2004, when they defeated the Flames in seven games.
Looking back, St. Louis said it was a special group of young players who had no fear.
"We were just growing up," he said. "We knew the game, but we didn't know the game like we know it now. We were just competitors. We were proud people, and we wanted to win. Those guys are unbelievable hockey players. I was thinking about that this the other day. I won the MVP in the [2003-04] regular season. Brad wins the [Conn Smythe Trophy] in the playoffs. Vinny was the MVP of the 2004 World Cup. And we were all on the same team. When did that happen?"
St. Louis won the Hart Trophy as MVP, the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's top scorer (94 points), and the Lester B. Pearson Award (now the Ted Lindsay Award) as the most outstanding player as selected by the NHL Players' Association in 2003-04. He won the Art Ross Trophy again in 2012-13 with 60 points in 48 games, and the Lady Byng Trophy three times (2009, 2010, 2013).
He is the Lightning's all-time leader in points (953), assists (588), shorthanded goals (28), game-winning goals (64) and power-play points (300), and his eight hat tricks are tied with Steven Stamkos for most in Tampa Bay history. His 365 goals are second to Lecavalier's 383.
"Think about the centers in Tampa [Bay] I played with," St. Louis said. "I played with Brad Richards, who played 1,000 games, Conn Smythe winner, and that was my first center in a top-six role. Then I went with Vinny, who won the Rocket Richard [Trophy] and had an unbelievable career. And then Steven Stamkos, who also won the Rocket Richard … I was surrounded by amazing athletes."
St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers for forward Ryan Callahan and draft picks on March 5, 2014. Although St. Louis experienced some backlash from Lightning fans, he said he hopes that time has healed wounds.
"I hope they remember me for what I brought to the team," St. Louis said. "It would probably be a better story if I finished my career there but … things happen sometimes and you have to make tough decisions. I loved Tampa. I loved playing there. It was just time to move on."
Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said St. Louis' accomplishments with the Lightning make him the perfect choice to be the first player to have his number retired.
"It's a very proud morning for this franchise," Vinik said. "Marty was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, for us. … He deserves to be honored with his number retired, and I have no doubt our fans will step up and give him the love that he deserves."