Hartnett: Rangers Lose Heart And Soul, But Change The Game With St. Louis
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By Sean Hartnett
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It was a move the Rangers had to make.
Hockey royalty has arrived at Madison Square Garden in the form of ageless 38-year-old winger Martin St. Louis.
For nine years,”King” Henrik Lundqvist has protected his Madison Square Garden throne. But no matter how magnificent Lundqvist has been between the pipes, the Rangers have lacked the offensive artillery required to advance to the Stanley Cup finals. He’s a king without a crown.
St. Louis is an absolute game-changer for the organization. Although the Canadian winger only stands at 5-foot-8, his arrival in New York has created a seismic shift in the Eastern Conference. The Blueshirts finally have a one-two punch in forwards St. Louis and Rick Nash.
Some fans will be skeptical given St. Louis’ age, but the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner gives the Rangers immediate scoring presence. This team is now capable of matching firepower with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins.
St. Louis understands the pressures and expectations that come with the fresh challenge in front of him. After the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, St. Louis stood at the podium. He appeared confident and completely understanding of the task in front of him.
“I know this is going to be a challenge for me,” St. Louis said. “But I love challenges and I like to rise to the occasion and be put in that position. This is a chance to play the game in one of the biggest markets and I know what comes with it. When things are good, it’s awesome. There’s going to be tough times but you’ve got to live through it and you’ve got to face it. I am my biggest critic and I’ve always felt that way. And that’s one of the reasons to keep pushing it.”
ST. LOUIS DREAMS OF REPLICATING 1994
Without any prodding, St. Louis mentioned the magical year of 1994. He remembers watching Mark Messier bring ecstasy to the Big Apple and recognizes this could be a special chapter in his career.
“This is a great building to play in,” St. Louis said. “When you come in as a visiting team, you’re impressed with the banners and stuff. Obviously, I was old enough to see the Rangers win in ’94. I know what winning brings. This is what I’m playing for.”
SATHER: ‘HOPEFULLY THIS IS GOING TO PUSH US OVER THE EDGE’
Rangers general manager Glen Sather believes St. Louis can propel this team to the next level.
“There’s a lot of contenders right now,” Sather said. “If you look around the league, it’s very close. Where we sit right now is very close. Hopefully this is going to push us over the edge and it’s going to make us a little closer to achieving our goal.”
Sather described St.Louis as a “dynamic specimen” and believes that St. Louis is the type of player who will maintain his high level of play due his unparalleled work ethic.
“He certainly looks like it,” Sather said. “He’s in tremendous shape. He lives in Connecticut, he worked out with Brad Richards all summer. Everything I’ve been told about him is he’s a dynamic specimen as far as his conditioning is concerned, he’s worked very hard at it. He’s very dedicated and he’s always been the hardest working guy on the team he’s been on. So I don’t think that’s going to change here. I think he’s going to be an inspiration to everyone on our club.”
Like many of his teammates, center Derek Stepan is excited about St. Louis’ arrival. He’s looking to soak up all of St. Louis’ wisdom.
“Growing up, I didn’t follow a specific team because Minnesota didn’t have a team at the time,” Stepan said. “You watch guys that are top-end players. It’s really cool and it’s going to be a cool experience to get a chance play with him. You always have to be learning and what a great opportunity to learn from the best.”St. Louis has been known for his grueling offseason workouts in Connecticut. His massive quads are freakishly large due to his commitment to keeping his body in otherworldly condition. He’s the kind of workout nut who will have teammates 10 years younger struggling to catch their breath.
He fits into the bracket of Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr and Nicklas Lidstrom as recent legends who have continued to play at all-world levels beyond the age of 38. St. Louis seems fully capable of playing elite hockey into his 40s.
St. Louis genuinely wants to be here. The opportunity of playing in New York was something that he admitted was always in the back of his mind.
“I always felt if I was going to leave Tampa, the first place I’d want to play would be in New York,” St. Louis said. “New York is a place I wanted to come if I wasn’t going to play in Tampa. It’s been in the back of my mind for a long time. But I wouldn’t trade those 14 years in Tampa for anything. I have a house here. I spend my summers here. I think this is a place that really fits my family.”
“As you get older, you want to get more kicks of the can,” he added. “There was some times that it definitely crossed my mind. I couldn’t be more confident about the timing for me right now.”
He will certainly have the chance to get more “kicks of the can” as the Rangers are an upward trending team under Vigneault. It was the decision that both he and the Rangers had to make to ensure their competitive futures.
CALLAHAN PUSHED HIMSELF OUT OF NEW YORK
Prior to Wednesday’s megatrade, the Rangers and former captain Ryan Callahan attempted to close the gap. More than differences in dollar figures can suggest, the two sides never truly appeared comfortable at any stage of negotiations.
“At some point when you’re negotiating you have to say no,” Sather said. “Or you say yes and in this case we had to say no because it got too far down the line to come back. At some point when you’re negotiating a contract, you get to an end point where you can’t go any further and we were there and that’s where it had to stop.”
“We were getting closer on the money but where this thing started, eight years and an awful lot of money for Ryan Callahan or for anybody else a matter of fact,” he added. “Unless you’re a first All-Star team, a player that has won Stanley Cups, there’s lots of things that fall into that.”
Callahan showed Rangers fans that his true motivator was indeed getting maximum money and the best possible long-term security. He wasn’t doing the Rangers any favors in negotiations.
Sather admitted that Callahan’s insistence of a no-trade irked him.
“This situation, the no-trade was the one thing that really bothered me in the end,” he said. “If you look at what’s going on today with some of the other players we’ve talked about, you give too much away when you give that no-trade contract up, it really ties your hands. I know it’s nice for the player to have security but no-trade, no-yell-at is a tough deal.”
Callahan skated alongside longtime friend Dan Girardi during Wednesday’s morning skate. He appeared at ease, smiling and cracking jokes with Girardi and his soon-to-be former teammates.
Then, presto. Just like that Callahan was gone in a flash. He didn’t speak to the local media after practice and the Rangers closed their locker room once it became apparent that the St. Louis-Callahan deal was being finalized.
No one will ever accuse Callahan of not leaving his entire body and soul on the ice for the Blueshirts. Rangers fans adored this guy and rightfully so. But this is a sour ending to really what could have been a unique and glorious career in the history New York sports.
It’s a shame that Callahan couldn’t come to a compromise and remain in New York. Instead, he will likely land in a wasteland, non-competitive NHL market and have to suffer through years of rebuilding because of his inflated self-worth.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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