AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning pulled off the biggest deal on NHL trade deadline day Wednesday, swapping captains Ryan Callahan and Martin St. Louis in a blockbuster.
The surprising move was announced just hours before the afternoon deadline and shortly before the Rangers were to host the Toronto Maple Leafs -- with the hope of having St. Louis in the New York lineup.
The Rangers had been trying to sign Callahan, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but weren’t able to reach an agreement with the gritty forward. They sent him packing instead of risking losing him for nothing on the open market,
"It’s still tough," Callahan told Canada’s TSN. "I knew it was an option that was going to happen if I didn’t re-sign with New York. No matter how prepared you are for it or knowing it’s going to come, when you hear that initial ‘You’ve been traded’ it’s definitely a shock."
New York dealt Callahan, a second-round pick in this year’s draft, and a first round pick in next year’s draft to Tampa Bay for St. Louis, a disgruntled two-time NHL scoring champion.
The second-round selection this year would become a first-rounder if the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference finals this season. If Callahan re-signs with the Lightning, the teams will then trade picks in next year’s draft.
Callahan was reportedly seeking a six-year deal worth $6.5 million per season. It is believed the Rangers were willing to agree to a six-year term, but not pay more than $6 million a season.
To Callahan’s surprise, the sides couldn’t bridge the gap.
"I truly thought we’d work something out," Callahan said. "I said all along going through this that I wanted to stay there and get a deal done, and that was the truth. But it’s part of the business that, unfortunately, you have to deal with. We couldn’t find a deal that worked for both sides, so I parted ways with New York.
"I have nothing but great things to say about that organization. Everybody has been great to me."
The 38-year-old St. Louis, who led the NHL in the lockout-shortened 2013 season with 60 points, had been seeking a trade after initially being left off Canada’s Olympic roster by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who served as Canada’s executive director. St. Louis was added to the squad when Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos was unable to play because of injury.
Callahan, a Rochester, N.Y., native, was a member of the U.S. Olympic team at the Sochi Games. He plans to wait before deciding whether to open contract talks with the Lightning.
"Right now you just get down there and get settled and then get used to my surroundings. Once that happens, I’m open to anything," he said. "If that’s contract talks, it is. If not, then we see what happens in July.
"I’m extremely excited. I’m going to a great organization, great owners, great GM. I’ve heard nothing but good things from players that have played there, and they’re in the playoff hunt, too, which is big."
Both the Lightning and Rangers are in Eastern Conference playoff positions with 20 games remaining for each.
St. Louis had a no-trade clause, and recent reports stated the Rangers were the team he wanted to join. The 38-year-old right wing has one year left on his contract. He will earn $5 million next season and be a $5.625 million salary-cap charge.
"We’d like to thank Marty for everything he has done on and off the ice during his outstanding 13-year career in Tampa Bay," Yzerman said in a statement. "He has been one of the greatest players in the organization’s history, but in the end we honored his request."
This trade reunites St. Louis with forward Brad Richards, who was his high-scoring teammate with Tampa Bay before the Lightning traded him to Dallas in February 2008. Richards signed a free-agent deal with the Rangers in July 2011.
They will likely be linemates again with the Rangers. St. Louis was traveling to New York on Wednesday.
St. Louis was the Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP in the 2003-04 season, and he has captured the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player three times.
In 62 games this season, St. Louis has 29 goals and 32 assists with a plus-12 rating. He is fifth in the league in goals and eighth in points. Last season he became the oldest player to win the scoring title and joined Mario Lemieux and Gordie Howe as the only players to post at least 1.25 points per game at 37 or older.
St. Louis, a six-time All-Star, has 369 goals and 604 assists in 1,041 career games over 15 seasons with Tampa Bay and Calgary.
Callahan, who will turn 29 later this month, has 11 goals and 14 assists in 45 games this season. He was chosen by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2004 draft and has 132 goals and 254 points in 450 career NHL games with them over eight seasons.
He became Rangers captain before the 2011-12 season -- the fifth youngest in team history at age 26. Callahan was also the first New York state native to be Rangers captain.
Callahan took part in the Rangers’ morning skate on Wednesday but didn’t speak to reporters afterward. He is expected to make his Lightning debut on Thursday at home against Buffalo.
"The Lightning are very excited to have Ryan Callahan join the organization and help us in our quest to make the playoffs," Yzerman said. "Ryan is an outstanding player and leader who we look forward to seeing on the ice."