Marty St. Louis will cross back over the smoldering, charbroiled bridge he left behind in Tampa Bay to visit the Lightning for the first time as a Ranger on Wednesday night.
It’ll be an awkward moment for Bolts fans. Not the whole “franchise’s greatest player returns in opposing jersey” thing; no, it’ll just be strange to see his front again, after he turned his back on them in February.
This is not a happy homecoming. This is not a welcomed returned. The bygones are not bygones. This is the first chance for Lightning fans to let this alleged leader know the consequences for the captain jumping ship, with a court-matial of jeers.
This is the opportunity to inform St. Louis that 972 games and 953 points and 13 seasons of blood and sweat and dedication can be packed up in a mothballed box until the pain subsides from his selfish decision to abandon the franchise.
“I'd like for people to remember the great years,” he said on Tuesday.
They will. Eventually. Just not now. (Unless the video tribute they run during the game makes them all weepy and nostalgic for a moment.)
"We had 14 years together. I hope they can respect my decision. I think I've earned that.”
In theory, he should be able to go out the way he wanted. He should have been able to play the family card, manufacture a trade to the New York Rangers and get a proverbial gold watch from the fans for his tenure.
In St. Louis’ mind, that’s probably how it played out. The ugly, petulant spurning of the fans because of his Sochi Olympic snub was merely the catalyst rather than the crux.
If he believes that, he’s likely only member of that congregation. The rest of the Lightning community had to watch as this symbol of perseverance and dedication succumbed to pettiness because he wasn’t picked for a team. A team that he had already played for. A team he was eventually added to and won a gold medal with in Sochi. A team that was put together by a committee rather than with Steve Yzerman and a dart board; a braintrust that didn't want St. Louis on the roster, and Yzerman respected their wishes, knowing what that meant to relationship with St. Louis.
This man, who once missed only two games in an eight-year span, was suddenly on the IR with a bruised ego.
So there is no “respecting” the decision, because the decision deserves no respect. The Lightning are clearly building something of a championship quality, with a great coach and what appears to be a franchise goalie. St. Louis carried them last season until Steven Stamkos returned, and just as it appeared this team was poise to kick it into another gear, the captain left the locker room.
They’ll boo. They’ll doctor up their MSL jerseys with duct tape and bile. They’ll do it because this was personal, in a way the national media telling them they aren’t real fans if they don’t kiss his ring won’t understand.
They’ll do it tonight. And then they’ll find some measure of closure.
"People are entitled to their opinion, and I respect that, and I know a lot will heal over time,” said St. Louis.
Tonight is about catharsis. After tonight, the legacy can start to be unpacked from mothballs.
Take out the Hart from 2004. Take out the two Art Rosses, the three Lady Byngs, the six all-star game jerseys and the countless other accolades he received while wearing the Bolt. Take out those memories of perfect passes from Brad Richards and to Vinny Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos. Take out that footage of this 5-foot-8, undrafted human pinball getting knocked around the ice and always getting up to inflict his own punishment on the opposition, blinding them with a glowing goal light.
There will be a day when it feels right to celebrate that he meant everything to this franchise. In a roundabout way, the negative reaction he receives tonight only validates that.