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Deadline Day Brings New Era For Lightning Organization

by Missy Zielinski / Tampa Bay Lightning

It seems ironic that on a day that so many Tampa Bay Lightning fans had been waiting for, the return of Steven Stamkos, other news took precedence - captain Martin St. Louis was no longer going to be donning a Bolts jersey.

Last Wednesday St. Louis had a chance to clear the air with his name amidst trade rumors, but chose to keep the conversations between he and Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman between them, leaving a lot of unanswered questions.

The talks would cool, despite multiple moves across the league in the coming days, but they heated up again Wednesday morning just as superstar center Stamkos was announcing he was cleared to play the very next game on Thursday versus the Buffalo Sabres.

Then came the official release just hours later after the buzz of March 5's trade deadline began. Tampa Bay acquired forward Ryan Callahan and a conditional second-round draft pick in the 2014 NHL Draft and a first round selection in 2015 in exchange for St. Louis.

"He has been one of the greatest players in the organization's history, but in the end we honored his request today," Yzerman said. "Ultimately if you have a player who doesn't want to be here, it's not a healthy situation for anybody, I thought it was right for the organization and that's why I made the deal."

Yzerman said the Olympics did play a factor in the situation, but he did not feel comfortable speaking on St. Louis' behalf.

"This is what I know, Marty has a home in Connecticut, he spends his time up there and he expressed an interest in possibly moving to the New York area in the past," Yzerman said.

In a letter to the Lightning fans St. Louis did not provide more than that he would "rather not discuss what brought him to that decision."

Though very unusual for a team, albeit two, to deal their captain, especially with both clubs in playoff contention in the Eastern Conference, now the Lightning will move forward with Callahan. The 28-year-old, who has appeared in 45 games with the Rangers this season, posting 11 goals and 25 points during this year's campaign, had spent his entire career with the Blueshirts up until Wednesday's trade.

It's a best-case scenario for Yzerman and the rest of the Bolts organization given the fact that St. Louis apparently wanted out. His value also decreased due to the fact St. Louis picked New York as his preferred destination, leaving little wiggle room during negotiations for Yzerman and his staff.

"I had options, limited options as to what I could do," Yzerman said. "I had clubs call – not knowing the circumstances if I was going to move him – to keep them in mind, but all I could say is that St. Louis had a no-move clause."

Callahan brings a fresh and positive attitude to the Lightning locker room as head coach Jon Cooper said "it didn't take a rocket scientist to see" that the St. Louis situation created a distraction. Callahan also adds experience and leadership that has helped him receive acknowledgement as team captain since the 2011-12 season with the Rangers.

"He's going to be a lift for our team," Cooper said. "From every account I've heard nothing but unbelievable things of him as a human being and admire the way he played all the times I've been able to watch him. We're adding a top-nine forward that we need on this team."

"I know our fans, coaching staff, players will appreciate the way he plays the game," Yzerman said. "He's a leader, a hard worker and a very successful hockey player."

In addition to Callahan, Tampa Bay's conditional second-round draft pick in 2014 also becomes a first-rounder if the Rangers advance to the Eastern Conference Final this season. With what is expected to be a deep draft class in 2014, Tampa Bay has a chance to continue to build on their pool of Bolts prospects, which has proven a strength of the franchise in recent seasons.

And if any team can deal with the changes that will be taking place it is perhaps Cooper and the Lightning, who have been hit with a multitude of adversity, that they have only taken in stride while keeping focused on the task at hand.

In fact those that may take it the hardest are the fans, as St. Louis embodied Tampa Bay for more than a decade. Yet St. Louis had a no-trade clause in his contract and the decision was ultimately up to him.

Callahan, who traveled to Tampa on Wednesday night, will join the team Thursday and is expected to play that night. He will wear No. 24.

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