Martin St. Louis Trade Makes New York Rangers a Top Contender in the Weak East

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterMarch 5, 2014

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Martin St. Louis' sour grapes became a fine wine for the New York Rangers.

The disgruntled Tampa Bay Lightning right wing wanted out of town, and he got his wish Wednesday. General manager Steve Yzerman shipped the 38-year-old to the Rangers in exchange for right wing Ryan Callahan, a first-round pick in 2015 and a conditional second-round pick in 2014 that will become a first-rounder if the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference Final. 

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 24:  General Manager Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning speaks from the podium during day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

St. Louis threw a tantrum when Yzerman left him off Team Canada's roster for a second consecutive Olympics, although he was added as an injury replacement when Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos could not compete because of a broken tibia. Fences could not be mended, however, and Yzerman acquiesced to St. Louis' demands to be dealt to New York.

"We'd like to thank Marty for everything he has done on and off the ice during his outstanding 13-year career in Tampa Bay," Yzerman said in a press release. "He has been one of the greatest players in the organization's history but in the end we honored his request today. We wish him and his family the best of luck as he continues his career in New York."

The Rangers reportedly worked day and night to come to terms on a new contract with Callahan, a pending unrestricted free agent, but when an agreement could not be reached, general manager Glen Sather decided not to pass on a deal that makes his team much better for the stretch run.

St. Louis has 29 goals in 62 games this season. He's won an Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy and Stanley Cup, which he captured in 2004. In 63 career playoff games, he has 33 goals and 68 points.

Callahan brought a lot to the table during his eight seasons with the Rangers, but none of it holds a candle to what St. Louis offers.

When everyone is healthy—Mats Zuccarello could be back from his broken hand soon—the Rangers will ice quite the formidable front line.

Potential New York Rangers line combinations
Left wingCenterRight wing
Chris KreiderDerek StepanRick Nash
Carl HagelinBrad RichardsMartin St. Louis
Mats ZuccarelloDerick BrassardBenoit Pouliot
Brian BoyleDominic MooreDan Carcillo
assuming all healthy

Brad Richards and St. Louis were teammates for seven seasons in Tampa, so it makes sense for them to start as linemates. The Rangers are 19th in the NHL in offense, scoring 2.55 goals per game, so replacing Callahan (25 points in 45 games) with the NHL's eighth-leading scorer in St. Louis (61 points in 62 games) should do wonders for the team's scoring punch.

That projected lineup doesn't include J.T. Miller, whom the Rangers could deploy on the fourth line or stash in the AHL. That depends on if coach Alain Vigneault feels Miller can handle limited fourth-line minutes, but the 20-year-old is obviously a more talented player than Daniel Carcillo.

Some will say the Rangers mortgaged part of their future to acquire St. Louis, who has one more year remaining on a contract that has a $5.625 million cap hit. If everything goes right for the Rangers and they reach the conference finals, that's two first-round picks and a captain exchanged for one year and a handful of games of a player who begged his way off a team that's also likely headed to the postseason.

Attitude aside, that's a pittance for a player of St. Louis' caliber.

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 04:  Ryan Callahan #24 of the New York Rangers salutes the crowd after he was named star of the game against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden on February 4, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Rangers, at best, gave up two late first-round picks, and franchise players are usually not available between pick Nos. 15-30. Even in the deepest of drafts—like the one 2015 is expected to be—it's crapshoot territory once you're picking in the 20s. And even if you nail your pick, that player won't be ready to contribute for another two, three or even four years down the road.

The Rangers are not a down-the-road team at this juncture. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist turned 32 on Sunday and since time is constantly moving forward, he is not getting any younger. He probably has three or four quality seasons left at most, which makes the fact the Rangers dealt a pair of late-round firsts (in theory) all the more understandable.

The championship window for the Rangers is only open for as long as Lundqvist is an elite goaltender, and time is ticking on that status.

Throw in the fact the Eastern Conference is a dumpster fire, and making a play for St. Louis makes a whole lot of sense. The Bruins are the clear alpha dog in the conference, while every other team has either minor flaws or horrible disfigurements. The Penguins sit atop the conference, but their putrid group of bottom-six forwards, an injury to Paul Martin and the unfortunate health situation of Kris Letang make them vulnerable.

After that, it's the single-people table from The Wedding Singer. Montreal? Philadelphia? Toronto? Heck, the Lightning just traded their best player (although Yzerman may not be done today). Any of the teams in the East can find themselves in the Stanley Cup Final. The conference is so wide open that you could drive a garbage truck filled with St. Louis' tears after he was left off Team Canada through it.

As for St. Louis bailing on his team over petty nonsense, sure, that could be a problem in the Rangers locker room. Callahan was a well-liked and well-respected captain, and players fully expected a deal to be worked out that would've allowed him to stay in New York.

But the players in that room are aware the NHL is a business and will get over it quickly once they realize they're a better team on the ice because of this deal.

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.


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