The New York Rangers should go from being a bubble team to a lock to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season with the acquisition of Martin St. Louis on Wednesday.
The dynamic 38-year-old right wing is an upgrade over Ryan Callahan, the player shipped to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the blockbuster trade, and a major addition to a top-six forward group that now has enough speed and skill on the wings to match any team in the Eastern Conference.
St. Louis has 29 goals and 61 points in 62 games this season. He should slot into Callahan's former spot as the right wing on New York's second line with Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards, his close friend and former Stanley Cup-winning teammate in Tampa Bay.
The Rangers' first line already featured dynamic speed, skill and power with Derek Stepan playing between Rick Nash and Chris Kreider. St. Louis will give the Rangers' more scoring pop than Callahan did on the second line, and he should improve their power play, which is ranked 10th in the NHL at 20.3 percent.
As a bonus, St. Louis is signed through next season with a salary-cap charge of $5.625 million. He's not a rental, which makes this move even better for the Rangers in the short term even though the price was steep.
New York had to give the Lightning its captain, Callahan, a first-round draft pick in 2015 and a conditional second-round draft pick 2014, which becomes a first-round pick if the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference Final this season. With St. Louis on board that's not out of the realm of possibility.
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman should be applauded for getting such a strong return for a player who wanted to be traded but only wanted to go to the Rangers.
St. Louis handcuffed Yzerman, who could have told the Lightning captain to stay quiet and go play. Yzerman's cooler head prevailed and he was instead able to accommodate St. Louis' request and reel in a nice return from the Rangers.
The return, though, speaks volumes about what the Rangers' true intentions and beliefs were all along as their negotiations with Callahan on a contract extension played out and eventually fizzled.
The Rangers have always been concerned about Callahan's longevity because of his gritty style. He has missed time this season because of offseason shoulder surgery and injuries to his knee and wrist. He is not a big player, but his work ethic matches his fearlessness. He's a forward who goes into corners, takes on bigger players and blocks a lot of shots, making him prone to injury, especially as he continues to get older.
Callahan, 29, asked for an eight-year contract from the Rangers at $7.5 million per season when negotiations began, according to TSN's Darren Dreger. There was no way they were giving him that.
Negotiations were said to have heated up last week, when Callahan reportedly lowered his contract demands. In fact, it was widely reported Callahan and the Rangers were in agreement on a six-year term and were within $500,000 per season.
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 29 | ASST: 32 | PTS: 61
SOG: 167 | +/-: 12
There was clearly a deal to be made to keep Callahan in New York and to keep the Rangers' core together. Callahan was a well-liked player in the dressing room, a heart-and-soul guy who had the ability to rally his teammates.
But instead of closing the gap and signing him to that extension, the Rangers essentially gave up some high draft picks so they could trade him.
Yzerman never would have done a one-for-one swap of St. Louis and Callahan, so the Rangers had to throw in the draft picks to make the deal palatable for the Lightning.
It's clear now the Rangers were scared to re-sign Callahan all along. Even when they got close, they went in a completely different direction.
That direction brought St. Louis into their dressing room. It's a win for the Rangers now, maybe in the future too. But the trade also clearly spells out how the Rangers felt about Callahan going forward.