After watching Martin St-Louis play his former teammates in Tampa Bay for the first time since the March trade that sent him to the New York Rangers for Ryan Callahan, and two draft picks, I’m pretty confident in saying this:
St-Louis made a huge mistake.
Yes, it’s only one game, but the Lightning’s thorough 5-1 pounding of the Blueshirts Monday was a demonstration of (a) all the things that make Tampa such a favorite of pundits this off-season, and (b) many of the things that make some of us question the Rangers as a serious Stanley Cup contender.
St-Louis did score the home side’s only goal at Madison Square Garden, but, in a sign from the hockey gods as to which side is likely to emerge over time as the ultimate winner of the trade, Callahan scored two goals for the Bolts. More importantly, the Lightning also got another banner night from Steven Stamkos, who scored once and added two assists while being the most dangerous player on the ice. Why St-Louis would want to leave a team with a young superstar for one that didn’t have anyone comparable is head-scratching, to say the least.
But it’s more than just the presence of Stamkos that makes St-Louis’ decision to leave Tampa Bay a regrettable one. The Rangers have had some serious injuries to deal with this season (including key cogs Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh), but even with those players in the lineup, the Lightning are deeper at forward and on defense and have more blossoming young talent (including Jonathan Drouin, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov, among others) than the Blueshirts. And with goalie Ben Bishop proving his superb 2013-14 campaign was no fluke, you can’t even argue the Rangers have a significant advantage in net anymore – at least, not when star Henrik Lundqvist is struggling to find his consistency so far this year.
At the time of the trade, many speculated St-Louis’ relationship with Bolts GM Steve Yzerman over not initially being named to Canada’s 2014 Olympic roster had deteriorated to the point he demanded to be moved, and perhaps that’s true. As one of the greatest players in modern memory, he had accumulated enough power to ask out if he truly believed he didn’t fit with the organization any longer. However, the circumstances surrounding St-Louis’ departure have never been made fully clear. Until they are, all we can judge St-Louis on are the facts apparent to us.
And right now, the fact is St-Louis left a team that looks to be a force with which to reckon for many years to come for a team whose leading scorer, Rick Nash, will be 31 years old next summer and whose backbone between the pipes will be 33 in March. At 39 years old, he wants to win now, but does anyone see the Rangers as a serious threat to win the Eastern Conference again this year? At this stage, there's no guarantee they'll even be in the post-season.
St-Louis has had a Hall-of-Fame worthy career, but even Hall-of-Famers make mistakes. And thus far, his choice to leave Stamkos & Co. behind looks to be the worst move he could’ve made.