The Rangers lost their heart, soul and conscience Wednesday morning.
But in doing so, they may have signaled their intent to compete for the franchise's first Stanley Cup in two decades, as Ryan Callahan was traded to Tampa Bay for 38-year-old right wing Martin St. Louis following the morning skate at the Garden.
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"He helps us advance a little farther than expected," general manager Glen Sather said of St. Louis two hours before facing the Maple Leafs, in which the right wing played after arriving from Tampa Bay. "There's a lot of contenders right now. If you look around the league, it's very close in each conference. Where we sit right now is very close. Hopefully this will put us over the edge and [put] us a little closer to achieving that goal."
The Rangers also sent a 2014 second-round pick and a 2015 first-round pick to Tampa Bay in the trade. The Lightning announced the 2014 pick could become a first-rounder if the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference finals, and the teams could swap 2015 draft picks if Callahan re-signs in Tampa. Callahan is a pending unrestricted free agent. The Rangers would receive Tampa's second-round pick while surrendering their seventh-round pick.
But the cost for St. Louis was worth absorbing for Sather, when weighed against Callahan's contract requests. According to multiple reports, the two sides were only $200,000 apart in salary but Sather balked at Callahan's request for a no-trade clause which the executive confirmed during his press conference.
"At some point in negotiating, you have to say no," Sather said. "In this case we had to say no because it got too far down the line to come back. At some point [in negotiating a] contract you get to an end point where you can't go any farther and we were there. We were getting closer on the money. The no-trade was the one thing that really bothered me in the end."
A six-time All-Star, St. Louis has 61 points (29 goals and 32 assists) in 62 games this season. The reigning Art Ross Trophy winner's 61 points are eighth in the league.
As importantly, St. Louis is signed through the 2014-15 season. With the addition of his $5.625 million contract, the Rangers have $53.187 million in salary tied up in 12 players, and $17.9 million in available cap room. The Rangers will have 11 free agents this summer, including Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider.
"[The trade] leaves our future a little more open down the road," said Sather, who stated he had another deal in place for Callahan. "Either way, Ryan was gone in this trade."
Callahan participated in the morning skate at the Garden, but was unavailable to the assembled media during the player availability afterward. He did speak with TSN's TradeCentre panel later in the afternoon, and described his reaction to the trade as "definitely a shock."
"I truly thought we’d work something out that would work for both sides," Callahan said, although he would not commit to signing an extension with Tampa Bay when directly asked by host James Duthie. "I said all along going through this that I wanted to say there, and I wanted to get a deal done. That was the truth. We couldn’t find a deal that worked for both sides, so I part ways with New York."
The Callahan trade was not Sather's only move as defenseman Raphael Diaz was acquired from the Canucks for a 2015 fifth-round pick. Diaz has 13 points (one goal and 12 assists) in 52 games with Montreal and Vancouver this season.
Even though the Callahan-for-St. Louis trade was the biggest of the day, both the Islanders and Devils made changes to their respective rosters.
Islanders general manager Garth Snow dealt left wing Thomas Vanek to Montreal for prospect Sebastian Collberg and a conditional second-round pick in 2014, while the Devils were able to acquire Tuomo Ruutu from the Hurricanes for Andrei Loktinov and a conditional third-round pick in the 2017 draft. Ruutu has recorded 16 points (five goals and 11 assists) and 34 penalty minutes this season in 57 games. Loktinov had 12 points (four goals and eight assists) in 48 games with the Devils.
"Andrei is a young, skilled forward who will play on our power play,” Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement. “Tuomo was a good player for the Hurricanes and we thank him for his contributions to our organization over the past seven years.”
The Islanders will receive Montreal's second-round pick in 2014 if the Canadiens makes the playoffs. The Canadiens will get the Islanders' 2014 fourth-round pick while sending a fift-round pick to Montreal.
"Sebastian Collberg is a prospect our scouts have liked since his draft year," Snow said in a conference call. "[He has the] potential to be a top-six forward. It was a good day under trying circumstances.
"We considered several different options. It wasn't the same type of trade deadline as it had been in the past. This was the best offer we had received. [We] felt [this was] the best trade [we could make]."
The Devils held onto goaltender Martin Brodeur.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.