The assumption was Steve Yzerman’s moonlighting job of building an Olympic gold-medal men’s hockey team for Canada cost him Martin St. Louis.
However, Yzerman – whose day job is general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning and who honoured St. Louis’s trade demand Wednesday and dealt him to the New York Rangers – hinted the infamous snub in which St. Louis was initially left off Team Canada was not the sole reason for the player’s departure.
Yzerman declined to go into detail, but it appears the 15-year NHL veteran had made several trade demands since Yzerman became GM of the Lightning four years ago.
“As Marty said last week, he and I have had discussions about his future in Tampa and we’ve had that discussion more than once,” Yzerman said. “We discussed it in the past. I don’t care to elaborate on it.”
Yzerman did say both he and Lightning head coach Jon Cooper tried and failed to talk St. Louis into staying.
“Whether or not I agree, I respect his decision,” the GM said.
St. Louis apologized in a Dear John letter to Tampa fans released through the media, but he also ducked going into detail about any wish to leave.
“I would rather not discuss what brought me to that decision, but in the end, this is a decision for my family,” St. Louis said. “I respect the fact many of you do not agree with my decision and are angry with it. All I can really say is that I am sorry and I’m very appreciative of the support you have shown me through the years.”
Once it was clear St. Louis would not budge, Yzerman said he started working on a trade because, even though the 38-year-old winger is revered by his teammates, having an unhappy player is “not a healthy situation long-term, for anyone.”
The split between the Lightning and St. Louis, the inspirational leader, leading scorer and last member of the Big Three from the 2004 Stanley Cup team, became official several hours ahead of the NHL trade deadline.
Yzerman and New York counterpart Glen Sather swapped captains Wednesday, with the Rangers sending forward Ryan Callahan, a first-round pick in 2015, and a conditional 2014 second-round pick to Tampa for St. Louis. Callahan, 28, is set to be a free agent on July 1.
St. Louis has a no-movement clause in his contract and he told Yzerman the only team he would accept a trade to was the Rangers. Considering his hands were tied, Yzerman managed to get a remarkable return.
The final step in the separation was still shocking. Until Yzerman made it clear St. Louis’s wish to leave did not erupt because of the 2014 Olympics, there were hopes, with the Lightning in a solid playoff position in the Eastern Conference and their best player (Steven Stamkos) cleared to play after missing almost four months with a broken leg, he would call off the divorce.
Then again, St. Louis did not win a Stanley Cup, a Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s MVP and two scoring titles as an undersized winger by being easygoing. When you are 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds and trying to make the NHL, the snubs are many.
The native of Laval, Que., was not taken in the NHL draft and signed with the Calgary Flames as a free agent in 1998. But there was no love for him there and St. Louis moved on to Tampa, where he found stardom and much affection from the local fans.
St. Louis played almost 1,000 games for the Lightning and was the last star player on the team who was part of Tampa’s Stanley Cup win in 2004. Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier had been shipped out earlier, and St. Louis was reunited with Richards in New York Wednesday night, as he suited up for the Rangers against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Lightning players appeared to be just as surprised as the fans. Stamkos told the Tampa Bay Times he was “in shock a little bit. It’s emotional. There’s frustration. There’s anger. You have to … battle through it.”
The conditions on the second-round pick could upgrade Yzerman’s return significantly: If the Rangers make the Eastern final, that pick becomes a first-rounder in 2014; or if the Lightning sign Callahan, instead of the second-round pick, the Lightning would get the Rangers’ seventh-round pick in 2015 and send their 2015 second-round pick to New York.
Callahan (25 points in 45 games) will never replace the scoring St. Louis provides, but he is a valuable player in his own right. He is a tenacious checker and shot-blocker, valuable qualities to have in the playoffs.
While the Rangers pulled back from completing a contract with Callahan, several reports said they were not far apart. He wanted a six-year deal for a total of $39-million (U.S.). The Rangers reportedly agreed to the term but did not want to pay more than $36-million.
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