The Tampa Bay Lightning lost captain Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline. The NHL's reigning scoring champion was the final key component left from the team's Stanley Cup title a decade ago. He was considered the Lightning's heart and soul.
There was concern that because Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman was forced into the trade, thanks to the demands of the 38-year-old St. Louis, the Lightning would slip out of the playoff race.
Who was going to guide the team? Who was going to set up the game's top sniper, Steven Stamkos, when he returned from a 45-game absence because of a broken leg?
Well, so far, so good. Robust two-way forward Ryan Callahan arrived in the trade that sent St. Louis to the New York Rangers. Stamkos has returned from his injury. And Tampa Bay hasn't missed a beat, going 3-1-2 since the Mar. 5 trade deadline after a 22-18-5 record previously without Stamkos.
"We lost Stammer for a long time and we still managed to play well enough," said Lightning centre Valtteri Filppula, whose club visits the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday. "We were able to survive that. Yes, we lost a player like Marty, but we got a pretty good player in return."
The damage done
St. Louis asked for the trade in early January, after Yzerman and his Canadian Olympic management team initially left the veteran off their roster for the second time in four years. Yzerman tried to make it up to St. Louis by adding him later as a replacement for the injured Stamkos. But it didn't matter. The damage had been done.
Yzerman was in a tough spot because he didn't want to lose St. Louis, and the player had only one destination in mind: Manhattan.
But, in addition to landing Callahan, Yzerman snatched a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL draft and a conditional second-round selection this year. That second-rounder becomes a first-rounder if the Rangers reach the East final.
If Callahan, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, signs a contract with the Lightning, the Rangers would receive Tampa Bay's second-round pick in 2015 in exchange for New York's seventh-round choice in 2015.
And why wouldn't the 28-year-old Callahan want to re-sign with Tampa Bay? The young team is strong. The weather is wonderful. There is no state income tax.
Plus, the Lightning will want to keep Callahan because his rugged style of play was exactly what was missing from its lineup.
"Unfortunately we had to give up our leading scorer to get him," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "But he's just brought a different dynamic to our team."
'A great fit'
Cooper has Stamkos playing between Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn, and Callahan skating on the right side of Flippula with left wing Ondrej Palat.
"That line has been dynamic for us at both ends of the ice," Cooper said. "That kid [Callahan] knows how to play the game below the dots. We just haven't had a ton of those guys go through our organization. It's a great fit for us. He's probably a little tired because I'm playing him a little bit more than he played in New York.
"He's the first over the boards on the [power play] and [penalty kill] and he's earned every right to do that. He's one of those guys you never have to worry about in the locker room, you know what you're getting, it's 100 per cent effort, and you can't have enough of those guys.
"Just watch our bench when he hits somebody or takes a puck from somebody or battles in front of the net. Guys are just pumped for him."
Other adjustments for the Lightning have been to go to Stamkos from St. Louis at captain, and for Stamkos to play without St. Louis.
"For a guy who has missed 45 games, [Stamkos] just jumps right into a playoff push and he's trying to lead our team," Cooper said. "I just can't say enough about what he's done to keep us all together.
"He played with 26 [St. Louis] for a number of years. So it's different burdens on his shoulders if that makes sense. But I'll be honest, he's electrifying when he's on the ice. He'll be the first one to tell you there are still holes in his game right now, but you can see him getting better and better.
"It's coming at no better time than right now when we need him."
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