The Tampa Bay Lightning’s trade deadline boiled down to one of the biggest trades in franchise history. While a few teams made a list of trades, Tampa Bay kept it to one. While that should make things easier to analyze, the Lightning’s blockbuster trade is difficult to grade.
A well-documented storyline came to an end on March 5 as—in simplest terms—Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers for Ryan Callahan, via Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports (h/t Jason Brough of ProHockeyTalk). Looking at the trade player-for-player is impossible. There are too many variables like contract, draft picks, intangibles, production, playoff stipulations and, for many fans, emotion.
Callahan brings grittiness, physical play and flashes of offensive brilliance. The Lightning community needs no reminder of what St. Louis brought to each game.
The Rangers received a boost on offense through the 2014-15 season at a cost of $5.625 million. Tampa Bay received Callahan’s marginally better defensive play for the next few months until his contract ends and negotiations occur—or don’t occur.
According to ProHockeyTalk, the Rangers won in the short term while Tampa Bay won in the long run. Only time will tell, but the Bolts did get two solid draft picks in the deal to ease the pain of losing the face of the franchise.
Included in the deal, the Lightning will receive a 2015 first-round pick and a second-round pick in 2014—it becomes a first-round selection if New York makes the Eastern Conference Final. The trade gets more complex if Callahan re-signs with Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay’s biggest addition at the deadline was the picks. The Lightning will need to add another franchise player like Jonathan Drouin to help build a playoff tradition.
Those draft picks will help a Lightning team that has a solid group of young talent. Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Radko Gudas are all 24 years old or younger. Ben Bishop is only 27. And two of the biggest pieces of the Lightning future—Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos—are 23 and 24, respectively.
To say the future is bright for the Lightning is an understatement, but that doesn’t underscore the pain felt by the absence of St. Louis. St. Louis led the team in points with 61. His absence will put more pressure on those young players to produce.
The return of Stamkos will force coach Jon Cooper to find someone to be an adequate passer. St. Louis’ chemistry with Stamkos was undeniable. Callahan will find a spot as a top-six forward, but a winger who can pass is crucial for the top line.
There are pros and cons for every aspect of this trade. It is a very convoluted trade that will take time to figure out who won or lost.
General manager Steve Yzerman is used to polarizing trades in his young managerial career. He sent Cory Conacher to Ottawa in the middle of a Calder Trophy-caliber season. The return on that trade was an unproven goaltender—Bishop.
It’s a small sample size, but so far Yzerman is converting 100 percent of his chances. However, if this deal sets the Lightning back, he will be converting just half of his big opportunities.
Not to be overlooked, Tampa Bay sits fourth in the Eastern Conference with 73 points. New York is tied for seventh at 69. With Columbus also tied at 69, the Lightning have just a four-point buffer between a season of promise and a season of regret. All eyes will return to this trade if the Bolts miss the postseason.
In the end, as Yzerman said, this was simply a team fulfilling the wishes of its captain. The details motivating St. Louis to leave Tampa Bay may never be fully understood. But the Lightning community has to thank St. Louis for everything he has done for the team, the community and the game of hockey in Florida.
St. Louis helped make the Lightning relevant again. He brought a Stanley Cup to the Bolts a decade ago and, in a roundabout way, may bring another one.
He was a class act on the ice—evidenced by his Lady Byng Trophies—and off the ice. His last memory for fans will be his open letter to the team and the community:
Who won the trade of the captains?
When the dust settles, the grade for the Lightning’s trade deadline move is a very simple “C.” A “C” for the vacated letter left behind on the uniforms of the two players involved and a “C” for not great, but not bad either.