I’m trying to give a gut-instinct reaction to this stunning swap of captains on trade deadline day, with the Rangers sending Ryan Callahan to Tampa Bay in exchange for Martin St. Louis, but there is so much to digest in a deal of this magnitude. My initial thought, though, is that the deal could work for both sides.
1. Are the Rangers a better team than they were this morning? Yes, I believe so. I know there are some people complaining about St. Louis’ age and the year left on his contract, but even at 38, he is one hell of a player who brings a strong winning pedigree to New York. The defending Art Ross Trophy winner, who has a year remaining on a four-year deal that comes with an annual average value of $5.625 million, is still among the elite scoring threats in the league. St. Louis is eighth in the NHL with 61 points, and neither his work ethic nor his production waned despite his unhappiness about being initially left off the 2014 Canadian Olympic team. He provides an excellent net presence and experience level to the Rangers and he has had success in the past with his good buddy Brad Richards, with whom he won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay in 2004. A leader both on and off the ice, he will make the Rangers better. That’s not a knock on Callahan, who was the type of heart-and-soul leader that made him a beloved teammate on Broadway, but St. Louis definitely has the edge in terms of the offense and creativity he brings to the Rangers.
2. Could the Rangers and Callahan have gotten a deal done? Yes, but the Rangers never seemed sold on keeping the captain in the wake of his long-term contract requests. There was a chasm when the two sides first began swapping proposals, but the parties made significant progress in the past week. One source told ESPNNewYork.com that the two sides were within “spitting distance” as recently as Wednesday morning, until the Rangers appeared to move in a different direction.
What does this suggest? That obtaining St. Louis was the bigger priority, that this was the player they believe gives them a better chance to win. Without the same type of competition that exists out West, there is the belief that the East might be much more wide-open in the playoff race. Pittsburgh remains the top dog in the conference, and the Rangers have yet to prove they can compete with the Bruins, but St. Louis adds a different dynamic in this sense. I truly believe the Rangers love Callahan as a player, particularly his unrelenting style and sacrifice on the ice, but I don’t think general manager Glen Sather was crazy about paying what Callahan will surely be able to fetch on the open market. Concerns about durability definitely play a part in that as well, with Callahan having missed time with three injuries this season.
3. Who won the trade? As I mentioned before, I think there are benefits to both sides. The Rangers get a proven scoring threat at a totally reasonable cap hit, while the Lightning acquire an effective rental player, a pair of valuable picks and appease their disgruntled captain. I don’t think we’ll really know the true winner and loser of this deal until much further down the road, especially given the stipulations of the conditional picks sent to the Lightning. The Rangers send a first-round pick in 2015 and a second-round pick in 2014, though the second-rounder becomes a first-rounder if the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference finals.
Also, if Callahan re-signs in Tampa -- a possibility that is difficult to gauge at this time -- the Rangers would receive a second-round pick from Tampa Bay, and the Lightning would receive a seventh-rounder in 2015. (Got that? Confusing, I know.) Now, wouldn’t it be great if the two teams meet in the playoffs?