Every team in every sport will have a player that the fanbase reflects upon and dreams of what could have been had he (or she) stayed there and not been heaved to the wolves for nothing. For the Calgary Flames, that player has to be Martin St. Louis.
To make matters worse for Flames fans, out of all the teams in the NHL that should have been willing to give St. Louis a true and honest chance, it should have been the Flames. In the 1998-99 NHL season when the Flames gave St. Louis his first ‘shot’ (13 games spent mostly on the fourth line), fellow small body Theoren Fleury was on his way to another 30 goal season, his seventh time reaching that plateau in Calgary.
There is no doubt the 5-foot-6 Fleury had his critics. The Flames had an up close look at his mentality and personality, traits that helped him turn his size into a pillar a strength. Surely they had to have seen that same resemblance in the 5-foot-8 St. Louis, yet they never let it come to fruition. In the summer of 2000, the Flames introduced a new management team, headlined by general manager Craig Button. Button deemed St. Louis too small for the NHL and not a good fit for the team.
Button and the Flames bought out St. Louis and he was free to walk. Calgary paid him the salary he was owed for the next season to not play for them. You read correctly. The Flames received nothing for St. Louis and, essentially, paid him to leave the franchise.
St. Louis ended up in Florida with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team willing to give him that true chance he so deserved and coveted. St. Louis was instrumental in the Lightning winning their first, and only, Stanley Cup to date at the conclusion of the 2003-04 season. How fitting that that victory would be over the Flames. He played nearly 13 seasons with the Lightning before being dealt to the New York Rangers this past trade deadline. He has twice represented Canada at the Winter Olympics, most recently helping them win gold at Sochi 2014.
As the Flames get set to welcome St. Louis and his Rangers teammates for a Friday night clash at the ‘Dome, let’s, as Flames fans, not forget about all the baggage St. Louis has accumulated during his career: one Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and 369 career goals to go along with 607 assists in a little over 1,000 NHL games played.
Not bad for someone too small — and free.