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Rangers' St. Louis: 'It'll be weird' facing Lightning

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

NEW YORK -- Martin St. Louis knows it's inevitable he'll find himself opposite Steven Stamkos at some point during the game when his New York Rangers play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday at Madison Square Garden.

When it happens, it will mark the first time in eight years St. Louis won't be looking to dish Stamkos the puck for a chance at that wicked one-timer from the circle.

"It's definitely going to be weird; I just hope I don't pass him the puck," St. Louis said.

When told of the comment, Stamkos laughed before offering, "I hope he does; it's been a while since I got a pass from him."

Emotions will certainly be high for St. Louis on Monday when he faces the team he spent 13 seasons with for the first time since a blockbuster trade last March sent the Lightning captain to the Rangers in exchange for their captain, Ryan Callahan, and two draft picks.

"I think the first time you play against an old team it will be a little weird, but once you get past the first shift you just play the game," St. Louis said. "I'm not too worried about it. There are definitely some great friends on the other side, but there's been a lot of changes the past couple of years so there are a lot of guys I don't know. I'm just going to go out there and try to play my game. I know that I might have some butterflies early on, but when you go out and play the butterflies will go away."

The trade between the Rangers and Lightning seemed inevitable once St. Louis was initially left off Canada's roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympics by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman. Yzerman at the time also served as GM of Canada. St. Louis was ultimately named to the team as an injury replacement for Stamkos.

St. Louis later admitted that was just part of the reason he wanted out and was willing to waive his no-trade clause if it meant playing on Broadway and being closer to his home in Greenwich, Conn.

"I was three wins from winning a Stanley Cup [in 2014 with the Rangers]," St. Louis said. "The amount of time I've been at home this year, sleeping with my family and being with my kids, seeing their hockey games, has been so great. I'm pleased with the opportunity I got to play for a Stanley Cup and the time I get to be with my kids."

Rangers GM Glen Sather worked swiftly to get a trade done when he and Callahan could not reach an agreement on a contract extension by the NHL Trade Deadline -- the holdup being Callahan's insistence on a no-trade clause. It was then Sather reached out to Yzerman to talk business.

Looking back, St. Louis said he wishes things weren't done so hastily.

"It happened really fast, so I didn't really get a chance to say goodbye to anybody," St. Louis said. "I played in St. Louis the night before [the trade] and the next day I was on a plane to New York. It was very sudden. I think sudden usually brings a little more pain to everybody involved, and I understand some of the fans point of view. I respect it, but for me and family it was time to move on."

Many fans in Tampa considered St. Louis' decision to leave as a selfish maneuver. In the end, it was a trade that probably had to happen for the benefit of St. Louis and the Lightning to move forward.

"I was there every day as the process was going on," Stamkos said. "It wasn't a surprise when that day came. When I look back, on the day I returned from my [broken fibula] was the day Marty got traded, so we never really had that final game together where you knew it was coming.

"We knew [the trade] was coming, it was just a matter of time and it was tough when it happened. But I think we've done a good job of moving on and getting past it, bringing in new guys and a good young core. We have a good thing going on here in Tampa."

Months later, there appears to be no clear-cut winner in the St. Louis-Callahan trade.

Callahan signed a six-year contract extension with the Lightning worth a reported $38.8 million in June, and also received a partial no-trade clause. He has 12 goals and 23 points in 33 games as a member of the Lightning.

St. Louis is in the final year of a four-year contract worth $22.5 million, according to Capgeek.com, and would become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He has seven goals and 21 points in 36 games.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has become accustomed to the type of impact St. Louis has on the team.

"He's been in the League for so long and he's really professional on how he sees the game and prepares," Vigneault said. "He's a great role model for our team, just like he was a great role model in Tampa Bay. He's a very emotional young man and he's going to be very emotional [against the Lightning]. I'm sure he's going to do really well."

St. Louis had a major impact in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring eight goals and 15 points in 25 games as the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 19 seasons.

"Last season was amazing; I know we didn't win it, but it gave me a chance to grow with my teammates a lot quicker so when I came back this year it felt like I had been here a lot longer than five months," St. Louis said. "I think that definitely helped me. I think the trade was a great fit for everybody."

Stamkos, who was named captain the day after the St. Louis trade, is grateful for everything his good friend did for him when he starred for the Lightning.

"He's a guy who kind of brought me up when I was a young kid in this League and we shared a lot of great memories," Stamkos said. "Everyone knows about the stuff on the ice, but it was away from the rink, the friendship we had, what he taught me about the game and how to be a professional; that's what I remember. Everything I try to instill into my game and with being a leader and passing that on to the younger guys on the team is from watching Marty. His work ethic is unbelievable."

Stamkos, who leads with Lightning with 11 goals and is tied for the team lead with 19 points, said it will be strange seeing St. Louis on the other side in a regular-season game.

"I've played with a lot of great guys who I've been close friends with and I've also played against them, but playing against Marty will probably top the list among guys who had this type of impact on my career," Stamkos said.

St. Louis will return to Tampa Bay as a member of the Rangers for the first time since the trade on Nov. 26.

"I did look at the schedule to see when we were playing them," St. Louis said. "It'll be a little different being in Tampa; it'll be weird again."

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