Naming Martin St. Louis captain Tuesday night solidifies the beginning of a new era for the Tampa Bay Lightning, as they continue to piece a winning product together.
“In my eyes it was a pretty easy choice,” Steven Stamkos said. “We’re hoping now that he’s got that ‘C’ on his chest, that he stays here for a long time and we get to play with him for a lot more years.”
Meticulously working on redressing the holes in the organization from top to bottom, the Lightning underwent some soul searching in recent years.
To start, the Bolts explored new ownership options, and found Jeff Vinik to take the reigns as Chairman and Governor. From there came a new general manager who is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Steve Yzerman. Then Vinik renovated the Tampa Bay Times Forum and changed the in-game experience for Lightning fans. Now the Jon Cooper era is about to fully blossom this season as he takes the reigns of this young Lightning team from the start of a full season.
On the cusp of the 2013-14 season opener, Tampa Bay came one step closer to reaching what was often before seen as an unattainable goal – bringing success to the franchise.
“I could tell it’s been Marty’s team for a while,” head coach Jon cooper said. “It was the right decision and we’re united on it.”
Signing with the Lightning in the summer of 2000 as a free agent, St. Louis’ name has become synonymous with the Lightning and Tuesday’s announcement was one that came 13 years in the making.
“People say you’re born a leader,” St. Louis said. “I think you need to experience a little bit before you actually know if you can be a leader or not. I feel like I’ve been through a lot and have a good gauge in how to handle certain things.”
With a Stanley Cup Championship, two Art Ross Trophy’s as the league’s leader for points, and Tampa Bay’s all-time leader for points with 892, assists with 556 and shorthanded goals with 28, “a little bit of experience” seems modest.
“Everybody on this team has got to be a leader,” he said. “When you have 20 leaders, everybody’s pulling in the same direction. That’s what I’m looking for as a captain, to make sure everybody wants to lead.”
The words of St. Louis echo coach Cooper’s campaign slogan as he instills a “no-man left behind” mentality. It is also the reason he is the perfect model for captain.
Though a franchise player in everyone’s eyes, for him, the player to his left and the player to his right take priority and is ultimately the biggest pressure he feels.
“I want to help my team win, that’s the pressure I have,” St. Louis said. “When we lose and I feel I didn’t do enough, I’m disappointed. If you don’t put pressure on yourself, you’re not around for a long time. I still put pressure on myself to be successful.”
While a tough decision between St. Louis and Stamkos, it is all part of what Cooper explained as the team’s “natural progression.”
“You look at the guys coming up and it’s assumed to be Stamkos’ team at some point,” Cooper said. “Ultimately in the end I think Steven would’ve been disappointed, not that he wouldn’t have wanted it, but I think Marty’s done a lot of things for him in his career and Stamkos has prospered.”
Facing a lot of speculation if Stamkos would be the captain, his focus has been on getting ready for the upcoming season.
“You don’t dream of that as a kid, you dream of playing and getting a chance to play in the NHL,” Stamkos said. “It an honor to be an assistant captain. It is something I take pride in and it’s going to be exciting, to keep on learning from a guy like Marty and hopefully one day fill those shoes.”
Defenseman Matt Carle and forward Nate Thompson, who were also acknowledged as assistant captains a long with Stamkos, will serve as a type of checks and balances for St. Louis. They are mainstays in the building of the team and part of the plan in creating a winning team too.
Now with the mystery surrounding the “C” aside, Tampa Bay’s next and quite possibly most crucial part of the puzzle is putting the pieces together on the ice. Playing the last four teams standing in the 2012-13 playoff picture, including the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in the next two weeks, it will be a good test for coach Cooper and his four newly designated leaders in seeing where they stand in the picture they are trying to build.
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