Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.
And other times? Well, you’re pretty damn glad you pulled the trigger.
You have to think Steve Yzerman counts himself among the latter when he looks back on the shotgun arrangement that led him to swap Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers at the 2014 trade deadline.
The Lightning’s GM could have stood his ground when his unhappy captain backed him into a corner with a post-Olympic snub trade demand. Or he could have waited until he could make a move on his own terms. But when it came down to the marrow, Yzerman went ahead and made the best deal he could. And it was a beauty: St. Louis and a second-rounder to New York in exchange for Ryan Callahan and three draft picks, including two first-rounders.
That trade was just one of more than a dozen significant decisions that Yzerman made to rebuild his organization after falling just short of reaching the Stanley Cup finals as a rookie GM back in 2011. But as the Bolts look to take that next step this year against those Rangers, it’s impossible not to recognize how that one deal helped shape this team into the Cup contender that it is. And how it could provide the Lightning with an edge in this series.
Admittedly, the early returns weren’t so good. Callahan was held scoreless as the Bolts were swept out of the playoffs in the first round last spring. St. Louis contributed 15 points to New York’s run to the Cup finals.
But a year later the Lightning are getting exactly what they needed, while the Rangers aren't even sure they can trust St. Louis anymore.
It tells you all you need to know about Callahan that he had his appendix removed on Monday and was back on the ice at practice on Thursday. He’s listed as day-to-day and is questionable for the opener, at least officially. Unofficially, the only question is whether his line will be on the ice to start the game or not.
He’s yet to score a goal in these playoffs—given what we know now about his health, maybe that’s not so surprising—but then, that’s not the main reason why he was brought on board. Callahan is the glue that holds this team together. He might be miscast as a first line winger alongside Steven Stamkos, but his energetic commitment to 200-foot hockey sets the standard that the rest of this young group follows. When this team faces adversity, and there's sure to be plenty of that against a very talented Rangers squad, he’ll be the one who guides them through it. Maybe he finds the back of the net. Maybe he doesn’t. But you know he’ll make his mark on this series.
The same can’t be said for St. Louis. The veteran has struggled mightily this postseason. His speed, one of the tentpoles of his game, has noticeably diminished. It’s no coincidence then that the 39-year-old has been held without a goal through New York’s first 12 postseason games. He’s still getting his shots, 23 of them so far. It’s all about the quality of his chances. He’s just not able to get to the dead space the way he used to.
And it’s not just the lack of finish that’s a problem. With his legs slowing, St. Louis has become a defensive liability. His checks were dodging him almost at will in Game 7 against the Capitals, forcing coach Alain Vigneault to staple him to the bench for the final 10 minutes of regulation. There’s that trust issue.
Maybe he turns it around against the Bolts. There’s nothing like playing a former team to bring out the best in a guy. And even if time has smoothed over the hurt feelings, you know there’s nothing he would like more than to send his former club packing to unpack their golf clubs.
But given what we’ve seen of him so far, St. Louis is an afterthought heading into this series.
The numbers game
• The Rangers are 40-48 all-time in playoff games that go to overtime, including a 19-19 mark at home. They are 4-0 in OT this postseason (3-0 at Madison Square Garden), a franchise record for such wins in one playoff year.
• After going 0-3-3 in his first eight playoff games this year, Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos enters the New York series on a five-game points streak, including a 3-4-7 mark vs. Montreal.
• This is the first time the Lightning and Rangers have ever met in the postseason.
• Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is in a fight for his life. What an emotional rollercoaster this franchise has been on this season. Our thoughts are with him and his family.
• Nathan MacKinnon opens up about his summer slump, redemption at the World Championship and figuring out how to live on his own. Yeah, it's easy to forget the kid is just 19.
• Kevin McGran says it’s time to put away the Deadmonton jokes. Both the city and the Oilers are on the verge of renewal.
• The guys over at fivethirtyeight ran the numbers and concluded that past calls influence what a referee will call next.
• Memo to NHL teams: Don't pick a fight with the Discovery Channel on Twitter.