The big news to come out basically the second the Olympics were over was that Martin St. Louis had, indeed, requested a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning because he was not named to the Canadian team despite the guy who watches him play 82 a year being the man in charge of picking the side.
At first blush, this is the kind of thing that comes off as understandable. He was very obviously snubbed for reasons that to this day remain unclear; why would any team no matter how much quality it carries not have room for a guy who hasn't put up a points-per-game number of less than 0.96? Especially if that guy could provide a “good veteran presence,” is guaranteed to work his ass off, and would theoretically be able skate better than just about everyone else alive on big ice? And to have his own GM be the guy who denied him had to sting quite a bit.
There are a number of other factors, too, that can make one feel sympathetic to St. Louis. He's not exactly a young buck any more and therefore this was almost certainly his last chance to make it. He's still playing at an extremely, almost unbelievably high level despite the fact that he is indeed getting on in years. And thus to not be picked at all, regardless of circumstance, has to be difficult to take when the guy who didn't pick you also has to look you in the eye every day for the next season and a quarter. Who wouldn't, at that point, want out?
But there's also the other way of looking at this: It's incredibly selfish. Martin St. Louis is of course a paid employee of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and has been since 2000. He's been with the team through good times and bad (mostly bad) and carried the water as dutifully as one could hope that entire time. He's won a couple scoring titles, a Hart, and a Stanley Cup with that team. And yet he's willing to toss a molotov cocktail on all of that because his feelings got hurt. This despite eventually being named to the team when his own NHL teammate couldn't go. This despite generating more shots per 60 minutes than anyone on the entire team (and second in the tournament behind only Krisjanis Redlihs). This despite winning a gold medal. This despite Steve Yzerman immediately stepping down from the position of GM after the Games ended, which some have suggested might have been influenced by the fallout from the St. Louis saga.
This is St. Louis taking his ball and going home because he was not named to the team the first time around, and if it were anyone else, he'd get killed for this sideshow nonsense for the rest of his career.
People still bring up the way Patrick Roy nuked his way out of Montreal a million years ago, and while there have been a few pretty notable instances of top players demanding out of their long-time homes (Ray Bourque, Roberto Luongo, etc.) these were at least justifiable in some way, and mostly related to competition. St. Louis has no such excuse. The Lightning are one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference this season, for one, and seem to be trending upward under a new coach — although to be fair, that's not the first time we've heard such a thing in the last few years — so to want out now has everything to do with selfishness and not the will to win. No one who wants to compete for a Stanley Cup, you see, asks to play for the Rangers.
And speaking of which, St. Louis's having apparently demanded that he be traded to the Rangers and the Rangers only puts the team to which he's given so much over the last decade and a half in a hell of a tough position. A Martin St. Louis bidding war? The line of contenders is around the block. A Martin St. Louis guided sale to one team? The return is going to be awful. Longtime players with legendary careers getting traded is often viewed as being “part of the business;” that is, when you trade a guy like St. Louis, who has a no-trade clause, the thinking is that he's supposed to help facilitate the best return possible (Jarome Iginla seemed not to have gotten this memo). St. Louis flatly refuses to do that. And yet, he is seen as being largely without blame here.
In one of those blind taste-test things they do on TV commercials sometimes, let's go through a quick what-if:
Suppose there's a star player whose team has only made the playoffs once in the last seven seasons.
Suppose during that time he's gone through five different coaches and three different general managers.
Suppose during that time he's played with some of the best centers in hockey.
Suppose during that time he's posted huge individual numbers while his teams faltered.
Suppose during that time he's posted a plus-minus north of zero just twice.
What do you suppose the average hockey media pundit has to say about such a player? He can't lead his team to victory? That he's a coach killer? That he doesn't make his teammates better? That he needs to commit more to a two-way game? Probably a combination of a few of these.
Now suppose he demands a trade from a winning team because he got his feelings hurt, then may or may not have leaked it to the press. Obviously you can tell who's being discussed here, but look at how much of a pass you-know-who is getting, and ask yourself why it's happening.
Now think about a different scenario. Alexander Semin was left off the initial ballot for the Russian Olympic team. Suppose his GM had been the guy that picked that roster, and then Semin demanded a trade for literally the exact same reason as St. Louis did. What do you think the headlines for that situation look like? The words “selfish” and “prima donna” and “enigmatic” are thrown around liberally by the kind of people who throw them around liberally to begin with. This is indisputable. It would 100 percent happen.
Maybe it's all the years St. Louis has given this league, and the improbable way in which he continues to succeed at the highest level despite mountains of obstacles being placed in his way. He's scrappy, he's hard-working, and if this were baseball he'd come back to the dugout with more dirt on his jersey every inning. Old-school sportswriters love that, and they'll let him get away with saying and doing whatever he wants as a result.
Or maybe it's just because he's Canadian.