NEW YORK – The news was met with silence and disbelief.
The Rangers locker room had been open to the media for about 20 minutes after the conclusion of the team’s morning skate, and most players had already spoken about their desire to see the team’s captain, Ryan Callahan, remain in New York with the only organization he’d ever known.
Instead, Callahan, who participated in the skate, never made it back into the locker room. He was pulled into an office, where general manager Glen Sather told him he had been jettisoned to Tampa Bay in exchange for 38-year-old forward Martin St. Louis.
“His work ethic is there every practice, and every game,” Derick Brassard said of Callahan just moments before the trade was finalized. “That’s why he’s our captain, hopefully after three o’clock he’s going to be one of ours, still.”
“We’re trying not to think about it right now,” said Brian Boyle before he learned of the trade. “We know how important he is. Anytime you lose someone that important, there’s definitely an adjustment. I hope he stays. We want him here, and we need him here.”
But he’s not here, anymore. With only a couple Rangers players still in the locker room, word started to spread that the deal was done. After some reporters shared the information with the remaining players, the room fell silent and was quickly closed to the media.
“We’re either going to come out and play really well tonight, because we’re excited to have a new guy in the lineup, or we’re going to play poorly because we’re upset, depressed,” said Rangers general manager Glen Sather in a pre-game press conference. “But these guys are all professionals, and they have to suck it up. It’s the way it is, the deal is done. It’s not going to change.”
“Everybody knew there was a possibility. He wasn’t signed waking up today,” said Brad Richards. “[With a] 3 o’clock deadline, you knew something might happen. It wasn’t like it was the middle of December and everybody was caught off-guard. Doesn’t make it any easier, but as we were in here this morning, everybody was prepared for a number of different things with Ryan. As was he.”
“He’s a great teammate and friend, you want him to continue playing with you,” Ryan McDonagh said later on Wednesday, after the Rangers lost to Toronto in overtime, 3-2. “In the back of your mind, you think it’s just going to get done and you move by it. It didn’t, and that’s the way hockey goes sometimes.”
The Rangers sent a pair of draft picks to Tampa to finish the trade; a second-round pick in 2014, and a first-round pick in 2015. If the Rangers advance to the conference final this season, the second-round selection turns into a first-round pick.
“First time I’ve had a good friend coming and a good friend leaving, which is very bizarre,” said Richards, who played with St. Louis in Tampa for seven seasons. “It’s a weird feeling. You’re not really happy or sad, you’re sitting there wondering how to react and what to say to Cally. It’s a tough day for him. That’s all we can do, as a Rangers organization, we got a great human being, a great leader, and a great player. We move on, and he’ll add to this group nicely.”
“There’s no doubt taking a player of that magnitude from our dressing room is going to have an impact,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of losing Callahan. “That being said, we’re also adding a player that’s got a great presence. He’s won a Cup, he’s just come back from winning a Gold Medal for Canada, so we’re bringing in a real solid player and a real solid individual.”
“It was a little bit shocking, even though there’s been a lot of talks about Cally,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “It’s tough to see him leave. He’s been a great teammate and friend, and a great player for this team for so many years. In the end, this is the way we decided to go.”
Callahan, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, had been in protracted contract negotiations with the Rangers. His final offer to the team was believed to be for six years and approximately $37.5 million, while the team was believed to have offered a final, take-it-or-leave-it offer of six years, $36 million. Ultimately, the gap of $250,000 per season was too much to bridge, leading to the trade that sent shockwaves through the locker room.
“At some point when you’re negotiating, you have to say no. Or, you say yes,” said Sather of his negotiations with Callahan’s agent, Steve Bartlett. “In this case, we had to say no because it just got too far down the line to come back. At some point when you negotiate a contract, you get to an end-point where you can’t go any further. We were there. That’s where it had to stop.”
“I truly thought we’d work something out that would work for both sides,” Callahan told TSN, hours after the trade was announced. “I said all along going through this that I wanted to stay [in New York], and I wanted to get a deal done. That was the truth. That’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 part ways with New York.”
INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM: