Martin St. Louis may have had an Olympic gold medal hanging around his neck, but he still wouldn’t say the bitterness he felt being left off Team Canada’s original 25-man roster had subsided.
That it was his general manager with the Tampa Bay Lightning—Steve Yzerman—serving as executive director in charge of that final call still seemed to resonate for the 38-year-old winger. St. Louis talked only about the “tough job” Yzerman had to do and mentioned vague discussions the two men had.
It was clear those discussions included a demand to be traded, and on Wednesday—less than two weeks after Canada won gold in Sochi—Yzerman obliged, trading St. Louis to the New York Rangers for forward Ryan Callahan and two conditional draft picks.
“Marty and I have discussed his future with the organization in the past,” Yzerman told reporters in Tampa, Fla. “Whether I agree or not, I respect his decision. It’s Marty’s career, it’s Marty’s life, it’s personal.”
From the way Yzerman described it during his news conference at Tampa Bay Times Forum, it was a personal issue that arose before Jan. 7, when the likes of Patrick Marleau and Jeff Carter were announced as being part of the Canadian Olympic team and St. Louis was not. Yzerman repeatedly mentioned that he and St. Louis had previously talked about his future.
It’s unclear if any animosity started in 2010, when Yzerman left St. Louis off the gold-medal-winning team at the Vancouver Games. Yzerman wasn’t Tampa Bay’s GM until that summer, but the five-foot-eight Laval, Que., native made no secret that he wasn’t happy about that decision.
Still, St. Louis signed an extension with Yzerman and the Lightning through the 2014-15 season.
From his brief comments the night of Jan. 7 and onward, it was clear St. Louis was none too pleased this time around, either. Even replacing injured teammate Steven Stamkos on Team Canada didn’t change his mind.
“That day in Winnipeg was a tough day for me,” St. Louis told reporters in New York after making his Rangers debut in an overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “I’m an emotional guy. But once the dust settled, I still felt strongly about what I wanted and what was best for me, the organization and my family.”
St. Louis may have felt strongly about wanting out, but Canadian assistant coach Lindy Ruff couldn’t see that during the Olympics.
On the ice, Ruff had “no indication” that St. Louis was unhappy with Yzerman or his role on the team, which included healthy scratch, 13th forward and Sidney Crosby’s right-winger.
“He was excellent,” Ruff said on a conference call Wednesday. “I think the one thing about Marty is he is a team player. I think everybody at that Olympics was a team player, put the team ahead of themselves, and Marty was one of those. …
“Some games he didn’t play a lot. But I thought inside of those games everybody bought into the team concept, and I think Marty was the consummate professional in that case.”
Behind closed doors, St. Louis and his camp told Yzerman that he wanted out. Armed with a no-trade clause, last year’s Art Ross Trophy-winner could choose his destination. St. Louis makes his off-season home in the New York area and thought many times about going to the Rangers.
“I always felt if I was going to leave Tampa my first place I would want to play would be in New York,” he said.
That’s how the fates of the Lightning captain and Callahan became intertwined when the Rangers couldn’t come to an agreement on a long-term deal with their 28-year-old captain. Callahan’s agent, Stephen Bartlett, wasn’t paying close attention to the strife between Yzerman and St. Louis, but once he figured New York would rather trade his client than sign him, he thought it could be a match.
“Once St. Louis came out and publicly said there was only one team he wanted to go to, then who is a valuable asset that Tampa could get back if that was indeed something that was discussed? I guess it’s logical when you look at it in that standpoint,” Bartlett said in a phone interview. “If Tampa was willing to do it and they were only told there was one team he was willing to go, that sort of narrows the field for them to talk to that team only.”
Bartlett and the Rangers couldn’t bridge the gap on their own disagreement, which was more about the length of a contract and money than any personal issues. He thought a deal was “very, very close” to getting done.
“I don’t think the gap is anything that couldn’t have been closed with about one conversation,” he said.
That didn’t happen, and as a result Callahan went to Tampa Bay for at least the rest of this regular season. He’s set to be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
The 2014 second-round pick the Lightning are getting in the deal becomes a first-rounder this June if the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference final. If Callahan re-signs with Tampa Bay, the teams will swap picks in the 2015 draft with the Rangers getting the Lightning’s second-rounder for New York’s seventh-rounder.
St. Louis has one year and $5 million left on his contract, which carries a $5.625-million cap hit for the 2014-15 season.
Given that St. Louis was eighth in the NHL in scoring and one of the major reasons the Lightning were still in a playoff spot in the absence of Stamkos, he figured to command a hefty price. The Rangers weren’t the only team in the running, but it turned out that Callahan and picks made it work.
“I knew that there would be a lot of interest in Ryan Callahan from many, many teams,” Bartlett said. “He’s, I think, a very valued player around the NHL and I knew that if the Rangers ultimately decided that they didn’t want to or couldn’t sign him that they would have plenty of teams willing to make an offer, and I know that to be the fact that it wasn’t a one-buyer, one-seller.”
Yzerman reminded reporters in Tampa that he had no official obligation to trade St. Louis but did so while considering what was “best for the organization.” He didn’t consider St. Louis sticking around unhappy “a healthy situation long-term for anyone.”
So the end result was an end to St. Louis’ 13-year career with the Lightning that included his winning the 2004 Stanley Cup and recording 365 goals and 588 points.
At his news conference and in the release announcing the day’s most surprising move, Yzerman thanked St. Louis for his contributions to the organization, while also conceding that the organization “honoured his request” to trade him.
Before that actually happened, Yzerman said he tried to talk St. Louis out of it, along with owner Jeff Vinik and coach Jon Cooper—to no avail. St. Louis said he “couldn’t feel more confident” about the timing of the move and only seemed to regret not being able to say goodbye to Lightning fans.
“It’s a fresh wound right now,” St. Louis told reporters at Madison Square Garden. “I think I’m a character guy. I know this is hard for them. I didn’t take this decision lightly, but I knew it was the right one.”
When Yzerman and NHL players arrived in Sochi for the Olympics, he described St. Louis as a “proud guy” but didn’t think he’d play with a chip on his shoulder.
“He wants to win a gold medal,” Yzerman said Feb. 10. “He’s part of the Canadian Olympic team, I think the motivation of winning a gold medal is all he really needs.”
St. Louis won a gold medal, but that wasn’t enough to smooth things over.
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