NEW YORK -- Although Martin St. Louis would call it only one of the reasons he eventually asked for a trade, the right wing strongly said Wednesday night that he first came to the realization he no longer wanted to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 7, the day he was left off Canada's initial Olympic roster.
St. Louis was with the Lightning for a game against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre when his general manager and Canada executive director Steve Yzerman revealed the 25-man roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympics at a press conference in Toronto. Even though St. Louis would eventually replace injured Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos on Canada's gold-medal winning team, the feeling he had when Yzerman passed him over that day never went away.
"That day in Winnipeg was a tough day for me," St. Louis said. "I'm an emotional guy. But once the dust settled, I still felt strongly in what I wanted and what was best for me, the organization and my family."
Nearly two months later, Yzerman granted St. Louis' wish to be traded to the New York Rangers.
St. Louis played more than 20 minutes in his first game with the Rangers on Wednesday, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden. He suited up in New York only hours after Yzerman traded him there for Ryan Callahan, the Rangers' first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and their second-round pick in 2014.
In New York, St. Louis is reunited with Brad Richards, one of his closest friends and former Stanley Cup-winning teammate 10 years ago in Tampa Bay. St. Louis and Richards played on a line with Carl Hagelin on Wednesday.
"I consider him, if not my best friend, right there as one of my best friends," Richards said. "We still talk about the game and life all the time. He played a big role in getting him to train with him in the summer. Yeah, very close. We try to hang out as much as we can in the offseason."
A tight-lipped Yzerman said earlier in the day he couldn't be critical of St. Louis' decision to want out of Tampa Bay because, "It's Marty's career; it's Marty's life. It's personal."
A clearly emotional St. Louis thanked Yzerman and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik for listening to him and granting his wish. He said he will always cherish his 14 years in Tampa Bay, and talked about how he grew up as a person and as a player in the Lightning organization.
He had 953 points in 973 games with the Lightning. He won the Art Ross Trophy last season with 60 points in 48 games, and was the team's leading scorer with 61 points in 62 games this season.
"New York was a place I wanted to come if I wasn't going to play in Tampa, no doubt," St. Louis said. "It's been in the back of my mind for a long time, but I wouldn't trade those 14 years in Tampa for anything.
"I'm thankful for everything the Lightning brought me and my family."
St. Louis, though, admitted he's worried about his legacy in Tampa Bay, about how the Lightning fans feel about him now that he, a fan favorite for so many years, asked to leave their team.
St. Louis' message to Lightning fans
Former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis addressed his departure from the club with the following letter to fans and media:
"Today is a bittersweet day for me. I am sad that this chapter of my career is over. I have had 14 wonderful years in Tampa and have cherished being a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. I would like to thank Mr. Vinik, Tod Leiweke, Steve Yzerman, Bill Wickett, Jon Cooper and the coaching staff and the entire Lightning organization for everything they have done for me through the years and today.
Mr. Vinik is an amazing owner and man, I am and will remain entirely thankful and appreciative of him and everything he has done for me and my family. I am also so thankful to the unbelievable fans of Tampa Bay.
When I arrived here in 2000, you all supported and believed in me when not many did. You have continued to support me through the years and I am extremely thankful for it! I know many of you are disappointed with me for my decision to want to leave.
I would rather not discuss what brought me to that decision, but in the end this is a decision for my family. I respect the fact that many of you do not agree with my decision and are angry with it. All I really can say is that I am sorry and I am very appreciative of the support you have shown me through the years.
Last but not least, I want to thank my teammates and the training staff. I have made some friends here who will be my friends for life. I will miss them all.
My wife, my 3 boys and I will always hold Tampa very near and dear to our hearts. This has been our home and where we have built an amazing life. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you Tampa for everything you have provided me and my family."
"It's a fresh wound right now. I didn't really get a chance to say goodbye," St. Louis said. "I owe a lot to the fans. The same reason why they fell in love with me many years ago I think is the same reason why they probably understand what I'm all about. I think I'm a character guy. I know this is hard for them. I didn't take this decision lightly, but I knew it was the right one."
St. Louis also appeared ready to turn the page, to start a new chapter in his career, albeit at 38 years old with the only other team he ever envisioned himself playing for.
He mentioned he has a home in nearby Greenwich, Conn., and how New York is a perfect fit for him and his family. He brought up memories he has of the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup in 1994, and how he wants a taste of that type of celebration in New York. He said he thinks he can be the piece that gets the Rangers over the hump.
"Believing in yourself is the biggest thing as a player and I think I've done that throughout my career," St. Louis said. "I know this is going to be a challenge for me, but I love challenges. I like to rise to the occasion and be put in that position."
St. Louis talked about relishing the chance to play in a major pro sports market.
"I know everything that comes with it," he said. "When things are good, it's awesome. There are going to be tough times and you've gotta live through it and face it. You've gotta be honest with yourself and how you play. You can't look too far ahead. You have to point the finger at yourself. I am my biggest critic and I've always been that way. I feel that's one of the reasons why I've been able to keep pushing here."
He certainly had to push himself Wednesday night because of the whirlwind and emotional 24 hours he encountered.
St. Louis spent Tuesday night playing for the Lightning in a 4-2 loss at the St. Louis Blues. He had an assist but was minus-4.
He flew home to Tampa with the Lightning after the game, then woke up Wednesday morning unsure of where he would be sleeping later that night.
He was one of the first players traded on deadline day, giving him enough time to fly from Tampa to New York to play for the Rangers. It was strange.
"Being somewhere for 14 years, it's just different," St. Louis said. "Just getting ready for the game, the little things you're used to, the locker room, the team, new teammates, you've gotta get acclimated. I like what they have here and I thought [Wednesday night] was a gutsy comeback. Unfortunately we didn't get an extra point, but I'm happy to come here and just break the ice I guess. I'm able to fly in and get that first game over with."