Steven Stamkos is back in the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup and Martin St. Louis is on his way out.
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman dealt his No. 1 right-winger to the New York Rangers prior to Wednesday's 3 p.m. ET NHL trade deadline in exchange for fellow captain and forward Ryan Callahan and a pair of draft picks.
The Rangers are sending the Lightning a conditional second-round pick in 2014 which would become a first-rounder if New York reaches the Eastern Conference final this season. The teams would also exchange selections in the 2015 draft — with the Rangers acquiring the Lightning's second-round pick while Tampa would get New York's seventh-rounder — should Callahan, an impending unrestricted free agent on July 1, sign with Tampa Bay.
“Today is a bittersweet day for me. I am sad that this chapter of my career is over," said St. Louis in a letter to fans and media distributed by the team. "I have had 14 wonderful years in Tampa and have cherished being a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. I would like to thank Mr. Vinik, Tod Leiweke, Steve Yzerman, Bill Wickett, Jon Cooper and the coaching staff and the entire Lightning organization for everything they have done for me through the years and today.
The team also released a statement Yzerman after the trade.
“The Lightning are very excited to have Ryan Callahan join the organization and help us in our quest to make the playoffs,” Yzerman said in a statement released by the team. “Ryan is an outstanding player and leader who we look forward to seeing on the ice [Thursday] night [against Buffalo].”
Stamkos tweeted earlier in the day that he would return to the Lightning lineup on Thursday for the first time since breaking his right shin bone on Nov. 11 in a game against Boston.
"I'm excited to see our lineup with [Stamkos] back, with Ryan Callahan in the lineup" Yzerman told reporters.
St. Louis, 38, has scored 29 goals and 61 points in 62 games this season, but there was talk he was upset with Yzerman when St. Louis was left off Canada's initial roster for the recent Sochi Olympic hockey tournament, and St. Louis reportedly asked for a trade to the Rangers.
'We respect his decision [to be traded], whether we agree with it or not.' - Lightning GM Steve Yzerman on Martin St. Louis
Yzerman, the Canadian squad's executive director, later added St. Louis in place of the injured Stamkos, but the relationship between the two may have soured by that point, with St. Louis waiving his no-trade clause to get a deal done.
"We respect his decision [to be traded], whether we agree with it or not," Yzerman said. "We're grateful for all the efforts he put forward. He was a tremendous player here who always gave 100 per cent to the organization. He played hard. He practised hard."
2004 NHL MVP
In 2004, St. Louis was the NHL's highest point-getter with 94 and later won the Stanley Cup, followed by the Hart Trophy as league MVP to become the first player since Wayne Gretzky and eighth overall to score hockey's trifecta (Hart, Ross, Stanley).
The native of Laval, Que., also won the Art Ross in last year's lockout-shortened season with 60 points in 48 games.
St. Louis has one year and $5 million US left on his contract, which carries a $5.625-million cap hit for the 2014-'15 season.
Even though the Rangers were the lone team to which St. Louis wished to be dealt, Yzerman said he had options but didn't elaborate.
"I certainly didn't have to trade the player," he said of St. Louis. "Ultimately, my decision [was] what's best for the organization? What's best now? But ultimately, what's best long-term for the team?
"I felt I was able to make a deal that I'm comfortable standing before you and discussing. To say my hands were tied? I don't know. Somewhat, I guess."
Yzerman added St. Louis's reported trade demand had to have had an effect on his Lightning teammates, saying the players are a close-knit group.
"But I think under the circumstance, everybody performed … admirably," he said.
St. Louis is the second straight Lightning captain to go to the Rangers, following Brad Richards, who signed with New York as a free agent in the summer of 2012.
Callahan, also a right-winger, has been linked to trade rumours in recent weeks while attempting to have his contract extended.
'I know our players are going to appreciate the style of play that he brings, the person that he is, the character that he has, the leadership that he brings.' - Yzerman on Lightning newcomer Ryan Callahan
The 28-year-old has 11 goals and 25 points in 45 contests this season. His best season was in 2011-12 when he recorded 29 goals and 54 points in 76 games.
"Ryan Callahan is a different hockey player than Marty St. Louis," Yzerman pointed out. "They both have tremendous attributes. … I know our players are going to appreciate the style of play that [Callahan] brings, the person that he is, the character that he has, the leadership that he brings.
"Are we better? I don't know. We're different. We're gonna see."
Earlier this season, Callahan was said to be asking for a seven-year deal worth more than $48 million US, and had recently softened his demands to six years and around $39 million.
In his eighth NHL season, all with the Rangers, Callahan is a three-time 20-goal scorer and has scored 132 goals and 122 assists for 254 in 450 regular-season games.
St. Louis joins a Rangers outfit that is seventh in the Eastern Conference and third in the Metropolitan Division with a 33-26-3 record for 69 points.
At 34-23-5, the Lightning are third in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the East.
"Our goal is to secure a spot in the playoffs this year, and with 20 games left and a schedule … loaded with [fourteen] home games, with players returning from injury, most notably Steven Stamkos, we're very excited about the final twenty games of the season."
St. Louis’ letter to Lightning fans
“Today is a bittersweet day for me. I am sad that this chapter of my career is over. I have had 14 wonderful years in Tampa and have cherished being a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. I would like to thank Mr. Vinik, Tod Leiweke, Steve Yzerman, Bill Wickett, Jon Cooper and the coaching staff and the entire Lightning organization for everything they have done for me through the years and today.
Mr. Vinik is an amazing owner and man, I am and will remain entirely thankful and appreciative of him and everything he has done for me and my family. I am also so thankful to the unbelievable fans of Tampa Bay.
When I arrived here in 2000, you all supported and believed in me when not many did. You have continued to support me through the years and I am extremely thankful for it! I know many of you are disappointed with me for my decision to want to leave.
I would rather not discuss what brought me to that decision, but in the end this is a decision for my family. I respect the fact that many of you do not agree with my decision and are angry with it. All I really can say is that I am sorry and I am very appreciative of the support you have shown me through the years.
Last but not least, I want to thank my teammates and the training staff. I have made some friends here who will be my friends for life. I will miss them all.
My wife, my 3 boys and I will always hold Tampa very near and dear to our hearts. This has been our home and where we have built an amazing life. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you Tampa for everything you have provided me and my family.”