TAMPA -- Eight months have passed since right wing Ryan Callahan played a game at Madison Square Garden, but Monday night the former New York Rangers captain is set to return as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For seven-plus seasons, The Garden was home for Callahan. The Rochester, N.Y., native was a fourth-round draft pick (No. 127) for the Rangers in 2004 and made his debut in Nov. 2006. He was announced as New York's captain before the 2011-12 season.
But he was traded to the Lightning in March as part of a package for Martin St. Louis after a contract extension with the Rangers could not be worked out. Although Callahan said he wasn't surprised about the trade, he admits it was a difficult thing to digest.
"There were a lot of things said through the media in the previous two months so I knew it was a possibility," Callahan said. "We were trying to work out a deal and it didn't happen so they decided to move on."
Callahan said the adjustment to his new surroundings took "a couple of weeks." He didn't score a point during the Lightning's loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring, but that didn't stop the Lightning from re-signing Callahan to a six-year contract.
"I didn't really know what to expect when I got here, I had never been traded before," Callahan said. "But the way this organization brought me in and the fans and with the guys in this room, it made for an easy transition."
For now, Callahan is viewing Monday as just another game even though he knows it's more than that. He isn't sure how he'll be received by Rangers fans who once cheered him for his tenacious play and leadership.
"It's a fickle place there and that's what it's all about there," Callahan said. "But they are great fans and it's exciting to play there. I'm looking forward to it."
Callahan won't be the only former Ranger making the trip; the Lightning signed defenseman Anton Stralman and center Brian Boyle during the offseason. Not surprisingly, Callahan was very instrumental in the Lightning's courtship of both players.
"He told me that he liked it here and that was good enough for me," Boyle said. "He didn't have to say much really because I love playing with him."
All three players are performing well in Tampa Bay; Callahan has six goals and seven assists in 13 games, Stralman (two goals, eight assists) leads the team with a plus-13 rating and Boyle (five goals, three assists) has provided solid two-way play and is a major presence on the Lightning's penalty-kill unit.
But Callahan's contributions can't simply be measured by what he does on the ice, according to Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
"Our hockey team is much better with Ryan Callahan in the lineup because he provides so many intangibles," Cooper said. "On the ice he makes plays without the puck, he is responsible for so many things that don't show up on the score sheet."
Callahan has found chemistry with Lightning captain Steven Stamkos on the top line. The two players have different skill sets that serve to complement each other. And as the 24-year-old Stamkos continues to evolve his game, having Callahan beside him has been beneficial.
"He's such a hard worker and he will do whatever it takes to help the team win," Stamkos said. "When he got here you didn't know him yet, but there was already that respect. He is one of those guys you want to be on your side in those tough situations."
Cooper hoped that Callahan's experience as captain of the Rangers would help Stamkos with his role as Lightning captain. Callahan was part of a core group of players that Cooper felt could provide the leadership necessary and bridge the gap of veterans with their young talent.
"Ryan doesn't have an off switch, he's on all the time," Cooper said. "He's always ready to go and guys feed off of that. The fans, the coaches, everyone feeds off of him. In the locker room he's a leader, his preparation and dedication to the game sets a great example."
Callahan is now well adjusted to life in the Sunshine State. He and his wife, Kyla, have welcomed a second daughter, Evelyn, to their growing family since the move. He says he loves the direction of the organization and believes the Lightning have made the necessary moves to be a Stanley Cup contender.
And while Monday will surely bring back some good memories of his time with the Rangers, expect Callahan to be all business once the puck drops.
"I'm going to go in there and try to get the two points and get out of there," Callahan said. "It's going to be different so I just want to embrace it and enjoy it."