Top-10 UFA countdown: #8 – Martin St. Louis

Photo Credit: Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

This is a series counting down the top-10 pending UFAs. It will be posted across the Nation Network over the next month! Enjoy!

Over the course of Martin St. Louis‘ Hall of Fame worthy career the 5-foot-8 winger has won a Hart Trophy, a Stanley Cup, an Olympic Gold Medal and two Art Ross trophies (including one as a 37-year-old). His resume is beyond reproach. 

Built like a bumper car, St. Louis has accomplished everything a hockey player can accomplish. And as much as hockey’s trend watchers are fawning over undersized players now, St. Louis has been doing Tyler Johnson-like things for more than a decade. So how can a future Hall of Fame immortal find himself ranked eighth on our countdown of the top unrestricted free agents? 

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It’s simple really: age catches up to everyone, even the best among us, and St. Louis will turn 40 this month. Thanks to a variety of advances in the field of human performance, players are remaining effective for longer, and no one doubts St. Louis’ work ethic or ability to be an outlier, but St. Louis’ advancing age combined with his least productive offensive season in 13 years is sure to dampen the enthusiasm with which he’s pursued on the free agent market this summer. 

Track Record

St. Louis’ track record is sterling. 

Age aside, this is still a player that’s only three years removed from winning the Art Ross trophy. He’s 16 months removed from playing for Canada’s Gold Medal winning 2014 men’s Olympic ice hockey team – the most dominant international hockey squadron in hockey history.

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This past season, St. Louis’ least productive in 13 years, he still scored at a first-line rate. The 39-year-old was a top-50 NHL forward by goal scoring rate and 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes, and he remains a first-line caliber set up man. On the power-play, St. Louis wasn’t used that often, but he finished 75th in scoring efficiency among all NHL forwards who logged at least 150 5-on-4 minutes, which would suggest he still probably belongs on a first power-play unit somewhere. 

Though St. Louis was second among all Rangers forwards in even-strength ice time per game, his usage declined somewhat in the postseason, as he was bumped to the Rangers’ third-line. I’d argue that this was partly for matchup reasons though, as Alain Vigneault constructed a speed-based third line featuring St. Louis, Carl Hagelin, and Dominic Moore, to try and take advantage of the slower depth defenders on the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

From his ice time to his still strong scoring rates, the wheels haven’t really fallen off St. Louis yet. He remains a good bet to perform like a first-line caliber forward, albeit not an elite one.

Future Performance

Though St. Louis still logs major minutes and remains productive, there are signs of the toll that advancing age has had on his game.

He drew penalties at a lower rate than he has at any time since the dawn of the BehindtheNet era this season, and his underlying results – which have been stagnating for some time – continued to slide. St. Louis is at the stage of his career where he’s reliant on favourable percentages to drive his production, not to mention a positive on-ice goal differential. 

The good news on this front is that St. Louis still qualifies as that rare player who does legitimately drive percentages. St. Louis has pretty much always carried a high on-ice shooting percentage, and that’s continued into his late-30s. 

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Since the NHL lockout, only seven regular NHL forwards have managed a higher on-ice shooting percentage in 5-on-5 situations and they’re mostly the names you’d expect (Thomas Vanek, Jiri Hudler, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry etc.). That St. Louis’ percentage driving ability has persisted, even after he moved on from playing regular shifts with one of the game’s best shooters in Steven Stamkos, is a good sign. 

At this point in St. Louis’ career no one should be gambling on him remaining effective for years and years to come, but if you’re betting that he can be a helpful secondary offensive option for next season, that seems a sensible enough wager – if the price is right.

Contract outlook

Because of St. Louis’ age, his declining effectiveness, and the NHL’s 35+ rule, the veteran forward is unlikely to command much in the way of term on the open market. Surely he’ll be hard pressed to land the sort of contract that Jarome Iginla received from the Colorado Avalanche.

In terms of St. Louis’ salary for next season though (or even, perhaps, for the year after), he’s still probably a $5-6 million player. 

Surely St. Louis will be able to match the contract that the Vancouver Canucks signed Radim Vrbata to last summer. Vrbata is nearly seven years younger than St. Louis, but was coming off of a less productive contract year than the one St. Louis just authored in New York. 

Don’t be surprised if St. Louis lands somewhere on something like a two-year, $12 million deal. That’s a hefty bet – particularly in the second year of the contract – but it’s tough to add first-line caliber forwards in free agency without a longer term commitment. 

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It should go without saying that if St. Louis decides to chase another Stanley Cup and sign with a contender on a cheap one-year deal, he could be a massive steal. Of course, if that’s what St. Louis decides to do, then it would seem likely that he’d just remain with the Rangers

He’s also been linked to the New Jersey Devils, who could certainly use some of St. Louis’ latent fire power up front. 

    • OilCanFan1

      I agree on this – if he didn’t hold a grudge against his former GM he could have been contributing to the Lightning’s run and most likely would have a Stanley Cup ring…

      • piscera.infada

        He does have a Stanley Cup ring, by the way. I don’t disagree with him “holding a grudge”, but his “bad attitude” is mostly hyperbole (as is so often the case with athletes). The reason the Oilers, Flames, or Leafs shouldn’t sign him is the dollars and term he’s likely going to get, and the fact that neither of those match up particularly well with either of those team’s “windows”–not that he’d sign with either one anyway.

        Without waxing poetic, it is important in this conversation to bring up the fact that Marty has won 2 Olympic gold medals, a Stanley Cup, the Art Ross, the Hart, the Lester B. Pearson, and has been a six-time allstar. No, he’s not the same player he was, but he will be valuable to some team, provided he picks the correct one.

  • ubermiguel

    ~I wonder if he’s ever thought about signing with Tampa Bay? They’re a contender.~

    Our Top 6 is pretty crowded, don’t see him fitting here. He’ll want to play on a contender so NJ is out. If he takes a discount PIT, CHI or ANA could all find room for him.

  • ubermiguel

    As a Ranger fan all I can say is no way you give him 5 or 6 million. The wheels came off this year, the majority of his points came from the play of his teammates not from plays he made, the second half of the season was worse than the first. He was getting first line power play time and he was awful.

  • CMG30

    IF the dollars were right (very low) and IF the term was short (1-2y) I wouldn’t object to having him float between the 2nd and 3rd lines.

    IMHO it’s never a bad thing to have real life examples of what it takes to be a successful professional for the long term in the NHL, especially since the Oilers are going to be breaking yet more youth into the NHL this coming season.

  • Ready to Win

    I love St. Louis but there are some huge reasons the Oilers shouldn’t spend even a second thinking about him:

    1. Every dollar spent upfront is a dollar not spent on the back end. I’m all for the Oilers picking up a couple of discount players to round out our forward corp, but $5 to $6 million is about $4 million more than any addition should be getting from us.

    2. Signing St. Louis would mean pushing Yak down to the third line; we need to give that kid every chance to succeed this year.

    3. I think one has to wonder how aging tiny St. Louis would fare in today’s western conference.

  • oilbaron

    nope, no need for him here, no room and the exact type of player we dont need. Not to mention there is absolutely ZERO chance he even would consider signing here.

  • CaptainLander

    I believe there would be value in having an experienced player that played I a very high level to help mentor the youth (Something I believe the Oilers have been missing). As an example seeing how Roy helped Yak.

    That said I do not think St. Louis is the mentor type. Gives off an aura of selfishness.

  • Do what Weight did?

    I am not saying the Oilers should sign him but if they needed to sign a small, left handed playmaker scorer, why would you sign St. Louis when you could sign a younger Derek Roy for 1/3 of the $$$ and Yak can play with Roy again for a full season and see what can happen.

    St. Louis was a great player and without a doubt one of the most consistent scoring wingers in the last 15 years, but time catches all.

    If I am GM of the Oilers I would still make the call on Marry and offer 2 million for 1 year. It is not an insult, just my best offer. It never hurts to try and that would be my one phone call. I would fully expect to be laughed at.

  • Why the fluck are we hearing about Anti Niemi and Martin St. louis on a Canuck forum as the top 10 UFA’s???? As if we are going to sign either of them you MORON. Why don’t you talk about the top 10 players the Canucks could sign? If i want to read top 10 UFA’s in the league I will go to, Bleacher Report, TSN, Sportsnet, or maybe Yahoo. If I want to read about just the Canucks I always come here. Or the Province, or So why do I need to hear about 2 guys we will not sign. There’s zero percent chance of this happening. This is stupid. Waste of time. If theee’s no news make up a rumour like Eddie Lack getting dealt for a 2nd round pick to the Edmonton Oilers. ?????? then that will get all the Jim Benning haters going again.

  • Ready to Win

    St.Louie should go to a contender this late in his career , not a rebuilding team . His expiry date to be effective may have already come at the conclusion of this year . Waste of time and money for Oilers to go after him now ,as need is very low to begin with on wing . Chara much the same unless he comes cheaply . Consider both only as rentals for playoffs at this stage of their careers .

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    He would be a 1-2 year expensive rental at best. What do you have 2 years from now? Nothing. No thanks. We will become more and more competitive over the next 3 years. He just doesn’t fit.

  • Ready to Win

    He’s the kind of guy you look at adding on to your team at the deadline if you’re in a playoff spot. As of right now he’d be an expensive waste of money.

  • TKB2677

    St.Louis is a going to be 40 in a week. He’s a tiny, right winger who’s skills are starting to diminish. In looking at him and especially his age, I don’t even think the list of teams that would even consider him is very long. Teams that would, would be desperate for scoring and I doubt it would be teams he would want to go to. I wouldn’t touch St. Louis. Other than being a vet, he brings NOTHING the Oilers need.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Marty will and should stay in the eastern conference with an easier travel schedule and a style of play that is usually less physical. Little man has had a great career it is time to start thinking about an exit.