From Elliotte Friedman's peerless 30 Thoughts column:
"New York is tight, with restricted free agents Jesper Fast, Carl Hagelin, JT Miller and Derek Stepan. I never thought I’d be asking this question, but, even at a reduced rate for St. Louis, can they do it?"
It doesn't matter if they can (they really can't), what matters is that they shouldn't. Martin St. Louis' last game as a New York Ranger should be May 29th's Game 7 loss to his former team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Sometime around the trade deadline this past season I asked the Banter cabal of writers what a good contract would be for bringing St. Louis back to the club. Across the board, there was hesitancy to give him anything beyond a single year and/or allow him to take up anything more than around $2.5 million in cap space. When the Rangers were battling the Pittsburgh Penguins back in the first round of the 2015 Playoffs I again touched base with the writers and asked, "What is the highest the team should go on bringing St. Louis back, if they bring him back at all?" Across the board, no one felt good about bringing St. Louis back to the team for the 2015-16 campaign. And after watching St. Louis score just 1 goal and 6 assists in 19 playoff games, it really couldn't be any clearer; Martin St. Louis should not be coming back to New York.
Before we get into this premature eulogy any further, I would like to make sure we cast some light on how important St. Louis was to the team in the 2014 Playoffs and in the 2014-15 regular season. St. Louis' 52 points in 74 games was good for fourth on the team and his 21 goals was a (distant) second on the club to Rick Nash. The role that Marty played on the Rangers' emotional Cup run in 2014 can never be understated. His teammates rallied around him after the passing of his mother and found a way to bring their game to a new level. Suddenly, St. Louis became a vital organ in the greater organism that was the Rangers. We fell in love with him because it was impossible to do anything else when he came up with huge plays and unforgettable goals on the road to the Rangers playing in the Cup Final in 2014.
If that moment didn't give you goosebumps you should have your pulse checked. It was the epitome of what makes playoff hockey something closer to magic than most of us will ever see in our lives.
However, the St. Louis that skated for the Rangers in the 2015 Playoffs was a shade of the diminutive legend that joined the team just over a year ago. Despite being given an infinite amount of trust and leash by head coach Alain Vigneault, St. Louis was more often than not irrelevant in the Rangers' intense games this postseason. His only goal came during a 5-1 Game 4 dismantling of the Tampa Bay Lightning on the power play to give the Rangers a 4-1 lead early in the third period. In other words, it was about as meaningless as a playoff goal can be. Far too often we saw St. Louis fan or miss on impeccable scoring chances. We watched as he was regularly knocked off the puck by larger opposing players. We could only shake our heads as we saw him regularly fail to contribute to the team's offense and we groaned when it appeared that he was dragging down his linemates with his inability to make an impact on the game. It was difficult to watch 2014's hero turn into a player that most of us wanted in the bottom six or in the press box and it was maddening when we saw Alain Vigneault continue to put his trust in St. Louis and make him the focal point of a wildly inconsistent power play unit.
The cost to bring him to New York wasimmense, but those are the kind of bills you have to pay when you want and need to win now. Of course, trying to get something of value for Ryan Callahan after contract negotiations with him and his agent reached a stalemate was also a key factor in bringing St. Louis to New York. Watching St. Louis walk this offseason and knowing that the club only got a season and a half out of him (and Tampa's 2nd round pick in 2015) in exchange for Ryan Callahan, 2014's first round pick, 2015's first round pick, and 2015's 7th round pick certainly doesn't feel very good. Especially after the club took another big swing during this year's trade deadline when it sent 2016's first round pick (conditional on whether or not the Rangers make the playoffs next season), 2015's second round pick, elite prospect Anthony Duclair, and John Moore to the Arizona Coyotes for Keith Yandle, AHL roster-filler Chris Summers, and Arizona's 4th round pick in 2014. That is a hell of a lot of the future gone for a team that found a way to lose its first Game 7 on home ice.
The Rangers swung for the fences when they added Martin St. Louis to the equation at last year's trade deadline. They added a Hall of Fame-bound winger that had a long history of making the players around him better to a team that had Rick Nash, Henrik Lundqvist, and all the other pieces that together made a real competitor for a Stanley Cup Champion team. All told, St. Louis played in 174 regular season and playoff games for the Rangers and was a key part of the team that was 4 wins away from a Cup and played a minor role in a team that was 5 wins away from a Cup. It was just as maddening to watch him struggle to find his confidence and game in the 2015 postseason as it was exhilarating to watch him become the heart of the team in the 2014 postseason.
In two and a half weeks Martin St. Louis will be 40 years old and about a month from now he will be an unrestricted free agent. There are precious few players that can play in the league at 40; St. Louis happens to be one of them. However, that doesn't mean he belongs on the Rangers' roster next season. The Rangers are already going to be hard pressed to find the cap space to retain several key restricted free agents, some of which (Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin) are in line for significant raises. Whatever time, energy, sorcery, and crafty thinking that might go into creating a bonus-laden, cap-friendly contract to keep St. Louis with the Blueshirts for another season should instead be put towards finding a way to keep Derek Stepan on this team at a cap hit that is less than $6 million a year. Yep, this offseason is going to be a lot of fun.
The moment that the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs the game of musical chairs that is fitting next year's roster under a $71.5 million (estimated) cap began. When the music stops there's not going to be room for everyone. The 40 year old St. Louis coming off of a contract that took up $5.625 million of cap space should be one of the players that is cast aside to make the 2015-16 Rangers the best possible team it can be. It's a shame that St. Louis' time in New York has almost certainly ended on a sour note because, quite frankly, he is one of the most exceptional hockey players of his generation. His 1,033 points in 1,134 games speaks volumes about a player that was never drafted and had to fight and earn every minute of ice time for the first chapter of his career. Martin St. Louis remains one of the game's most iconic and special players, perhaps he'll add another few pages to his story next season on another roster. If he does, I know I'll be smiling when he nets his 400th goal.
Thanks for reading.