TAMPA, Fla. — On a day that saw the departure of Marty St. Louis from the Tampa Bay Lightning, general manager Steve Yzerman is unsure if his franchise is better without the proud winger.
"I don’t know," Yzerman said. "We’re different."
Yes, a new era in Tampa Bay has begun. The former Lightning captain was sent to the New York Rangers in a blockbuster deal Wednesday morning, hours before the NHL’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
Tampa Bay will receive former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, plus a first-round pick in 2015 and a conditional second-round pick in 2014 for St. Louis, who spent each of the previous 12 seasons with the Lightning.
"This is a first time for me going into a new place and being traded, so it’s going to be new for me," Callahan said. "But I know when players come in, you just try to be yourself and do what you did that got you to that point. I’m hoping I’m can bring a little bit of leadership to the team."
The Lightning’s conditional second-round pick becomes a first-round pick if the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference finals this season. Meanwhile, if Callahan, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, re-signs with the Lightning, the two teams will swap selections in the 2015 NHL Draft. In that case, the Rangers will acquire the Lightning’s second-round pick while Tampa Bay will gain New York’s seventh-round pick.
"I’m pleased that we were able to make a deal with the New York Rangers, which we feel that’s acceptable and allows us to move forward in our goal to build a Stanley Cup-contending team," Yzerman said. "I wish Marty nothing but the best of luck in the future, to him and his family, with the New York Rangers."
The deal marks a strange close to the drama between St. Louis and Yzerman since the original Team Canada roster for the Sochi Olympics was announced in January.
Yzerman, who served as Team Canada’s general manager, was part of a committee that left St. Louis off the team. The winger was later named as a replacement for Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos, who was unable to make the trip to Russia because of his continued recovery from a broken right tibia. Canada beat Sweden to win the gold medal.
St. Louis, 38, owned a no-trade clause, but rumors escalated in recent weeks that he had asked to be dealt to the Rangers after the original Team Canada announcement. The six-time All-Star owns a home in Greenwich, Conn., where he and his family spend the offseason.
On Feb. 26, St. Louis did little to squash the rumors.
"I’ve had conversations with Steve (Yzerman) about my future with the team," he said then, "and I’ll leave it at that."
On Wednesday, the conversations turned to action. Both he and the Lightning moved on.
In Tampa Bay, St. Louis won’t be easily replaced. Through 62 games, he led the Lightning in goals (29), assists (32) and points (61). The closest contributor, center Valterri Filppula, has 41 points and 20 goals.
St. Louis was considered the soul of Tampa Bay’s lineup, a reputation that became more obvious when Stamkos sustained his injury Nov. 11 in Boston. St. Louis was named the ninth captain in franchise history last October, replacing Vinny Lecavalier after the former Tampa Bay staple signed with the Philadelphia Flyers last July.
Though St. Louis trade rumors had increased in recent weeks, it seemed likely that the Lightning would pass on dealing a face of their franchise. There were reports that the Rangers had considered the price tag too high, and St. Louis was considered by some as too valuable with Tampa Bay holding the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference with 73 points.
However, trade talks heated up quickly Wednesday. Callahan, a winger, is 28 years old and has 25 points and 11 goals this season. Pair his promise with the potential upside Tampa Bay receives with the picks in the coming drafts, and the Lightning found the deal enticing enough to part ways with their star as they attempt to reach the postseason for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign.
"I would rather not discuss what brought me to that decision (to be traded), but in the end this is a decision for my family," St. Louis said in a letter to fans and media. "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."
How will the deal be viewed in time? How will Lightning fans remember St. Louis? That remains to be seen.
But St. Louis, once undrafted, leaves behind a considerable Lightning legacy since joining them after two seasons with the Calgary Flames: Three Lady Byng Memorial Trophy-winning seasons, two Art Ross Trophy-winning campaigns, a Stanley Cup and a Hart Memorial Trophy.
After so many memories in that familiar uniform, though, there will be no more resume-building in Tampa Bay.
St. Louis’ end came in such a way that few — if any — could have predicted.
"Until the trigger was actually pulled, you just don’t believe it’s going to happen," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I think there were times… I truly didn’t believe it was going to happen. Until it does, it’s like that wave of emotions go through you."