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Decision to deal St. Louis a difficult one for Lightning

by Lonnie Herman

TAMPA -- After 13 years as the lifeblood of the Tampa Bay Lightning, captain Martin St. Louis is moving on. The man who sent him along his way, general manager Steve Yzerman, certainly didn't sound happy about having done it.

Yzerman's choices were extremely limited. St. Louis requested the trade, and, according to reports, specified one acceptable team, the New York Rangers. Within those tight parameters, Yzerman maneuvered as best he could.

St. Louis' message to Lightning fans

Former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis addressed his departure from the club with the following letter to fans and media:

"Today is a bittersweet day for me. I am sad that this chapter of my career is over. I have had 14 wonderful years in Tampa and have cherished being a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. I would like to thank Mr. Vinik, Tod Leiweke, Steve Yzerman, Bill Wickett, Jon Cooper and the coaching staff and the entire Lightning organization for everything they have done for me through the years and today.

Mr. Vinik is an amazing owner and man, I am and will remain entirely thankful and appreciative of him and everything he has done for me and my family. I am also so thankful to the unbelievable fans of Tampa Bay.

When I arrived here in 2000, you all supported and believed in me when not many did. You have continued to support me through the years and I am extremely thankful for it! I know many of you are disappointed with me for my decision to want to leave.

I would rather not discuss what brought me to that decision, but in the end this is a decision for my family. 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.

Last but not least, I want to thank my teammates and the training staff. I have made some friends here who will be my friends for life. I will miss them all.

My wife, my 3 boys and I will always hold Tampa very near and dear to our hearts. This has been our home and where we have built an amazing life. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you Tampa for everything you have provided me and my family."

"I was able to make a trade that honored Marty's wishes to move on," Yzerman said Wednesday, hours after he traded the last major link to the Lightning's Stanley Cup championship team from 2004. "I'm pleased that we were able to make a deal with the New York Rangers that we feel was acceptable."

The deal delivers Ryan Callahan, the captain of the New York Rangers, as well as a first-round pick in 2015 and a conditional second-round selection in 2014 that could become a second No. 1 pick. Callahan is in the final year of his contract and could become an unrestricted free agent in July.

The trade wasn't easy and some rough spots played out behind the scenes, out of view of the fans and the media, but not of the Lightning.

"I'd be lying if I were to say there wasn't a distraction," coach Jon Cooper said. "It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that there was distraction, animosity, what have you, over what happened in early January."

Canada's roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympics was named in early January. St. Louis, one of the last cuts four years earlier, was again left off the team, despite being the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner. Yzerman was the executive director for Hockey Canada, the public face of the decision-making process.

Yzerman didn't leave St. Louis off the team. The management group, as a whole, decided St. Louis was not one of the 14 forwards to be named. Yzerman was left to answer for the decision, one that was considered by many to be a snub of St. Louis.

"Does everyone know the definition of the word snub? Snub is to ignore. We didn't ignore any of these players. None of them," Yzerman said. "We spent hours upon hours scouting, watching, discussing every single player, so we didn't snub anyone. Unfortunately, Marty wasn't selected to the original 14 forwards on that team; he, along with a lot of other players, [was] disappointed. Ultimately, was that the main reason Marty wanted to be traded? I don't believe so, but obviously it had an impact."

St. Louis was named as an injury replacement (for Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos) just before the tournament and won a gold medal. But the rift, it appears, never fully healed.

"This did not sneak up on us," Cooper said. "This controversy or whatever you want to call it. But until the trigger is pulled you truly don't believe it will happen."

It happened because St. Louis wanted it to happen, Yzerman said.

"Marty and I had discussed his future with the organization in the past," he said. "Whether I agree or not, it is his decision. It's Marty's career; it's Marty's life. It's personal. I can't be critical.

"Whether I or any of us agree with the request to leave, that's a question you'll have to ask Marty, I'm not going to stand here and judge him. We're grateful for all the efforts he put forward and he always gave 100 percent to the organization; but as to why, that is a question you'll have to ask him."

St. Louis departed immediately for New York, arriving in time to play for the Rangers against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

What has been left behind in Tampa Bay is a team that received very positive news about its top scorer, Stamkos, cleared to return from a broken leg earlier in the day before the development of the franchise's greatest player moving on.

"We're different. I know our fans and players will appreciate the style of play that Ryan Callahan brings, the character that he has, the leadership that he brings," Yzerman said. "So I'm excited to see us on the ice. Are we better? I don't know. We're different. We'll see."

Cooper said his team could be better going forward.

"It's a tough loss," Cooper said, "not only for our team but for what [St. Louis] has done for this organization. But, in saying that, I think you could honestly say the team we fielded in St. Louis [on] Tuesday night (a 4-2 loss) is not as good as the team we are going to field against Buffalo [on Thursday]."

Cooper is counting into that equation the return Stamkos, who was targeting Thursday as his long-awaited return after failing to be ready for the Olympics.

"Ryan Callahan is something this team needs," Cooper said. "If there is one area that we needed to get better in, we need a couple guys that play with a little bit of snarl, and Ryan Callahan is going to bring us that.

"So yes, is it crushing to lose a guy like Marty St. Louis? But we lose Marty St. Louis and we gain Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, so it's kind of a 2-for-1 for us."

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