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Hartnett: Rangers Wouldn’t Have Reached Final Without Spirit Of St. Louis

Martin St. Louis (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Martin St. Louis (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

As the hours ticked close to the 3 p.m. March 5 trade deadline, Rangers GM Glen Sather was faced with two options as contract discussions with captain Ryan Callahan reached the point of no return.

Option one was trading Callahan to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a captain swap to bring iconic 38-year-old winger Martin St. Louis to Manhattan. The second option was acquiring youthful pieces in a deal with a separate team that would benefit the Rangers in the long-term.

“I had another deal,” Sather said on March 5. “This wasn’t the only deal. In the meantime, I had another deal in place. This one turned out to be a better deal for us right now. The other one would have (benefitted the Rangers) more in the future. Either way, Ryan would have (been) gone.”

Other general managers would have taken the option of making a trade with a view to the long-term, but acquiring St. Louis was always Sather’s number one desire from the time that St. Louis requested a trade in late January, prior to the Sochi Olympics.

The trade call was completed at 11:30 a.m. St. Louis rushed to board a plane to New York and arrived at Madison Square Garden just hours before the Rangers were set to face the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 5.

Suddenly, St. Louis was a Ranger. Yet, some Rangers fans were not impressed by the idea of acquiring a player in the twilight of his career. Some fans had wished that Sather had kept Callahan around for one more playoff run.

Those voices grew louder when St. Louis went on an initial 14-game goalless drought. But Sather knew exactly what he was doing when he struck the deal.

“There are a lot of contenders now,” Sather said on March 5. “Hopefully, this is going to put us over the edge and make us a little closer to achieving our goal.”

Those words would prove to be prophetic as the Rangers are now competing in their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years. Their incredible run wouldn’t have been possible without St. Louis’ heroics along the way. Through 21 playoff games, St. Louis has scored six goals and notched seven assists for 13 points. He’s scored two essential game-winning playoff goals.

St. Louis has provided inspiration at every turn. He’s been an indispensible, all-situation player with the heart of a lion.

The wise 38-year-old has also added an uncommon element of leadership that was missing from the equation. Watch St. Louis on the bench. He constantly is offering advice to teammates on the bench and behind the scenes in the dressing room. He is the Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi Master of this Rangers group. St. Louis’ veteran eyes have seen everything there is to see in this game, and he’s willing to pass along his wisdom.

Benoit Pouliot was St. Louis’ teammate for one season in Tampa. He understands entirely what St. Louis offers as a leader.

“He’s a big talker in the room,” Pouliot said in March. “When he talks everybody listens. He’s always talking, always telling you what’s the right thing to do on the ice.”

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault admitted before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final that the Blueshirts couldn’t pass up the unique opportunity of acquiring St. Louis.

“Having the opportunity to get a player like Martin St. Louis — with his background, his leadership qualities — was just something that we couldn’t pass on,” Vigneault said. “That’s why we decided to make the deal, or Glen decided to make the deal.”

Following the sudden loss of his mother, France, St. Louis’ courage in the face of tragedy proved to be a rallying point in the Rangers’ playoff run. St. Louis bravely pulled himself together to return to the team on the eve of a win-or-go-home situation in Pittsburgh.

Having flown to Quebec a day earlier following his mother’s passing, St. Louis returned to Consol Energy Center ahead of Game 5. His immeasurable heart propelled teammates to give their all for a teammate who was going through hell. St. Louis courageously showed up to his job, having being given his family’s blessing, and helped the Rangers turn around the series.

“He’s handled it in an incredible way that probably has helped our team come closer together,” Vigneault said in May.

“I’m sure everyone knows the tragedy he went through with his family,” Sather said. “The way this guy responded, what he did for our hockey club, that was a tough thing for him to go through — tough for all of us. That tells you the kind of person he is. Someone that can rise up to the occasion through all that tragedy.”

Sather reflected on the trade ahead of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. He admitted that the Rangers were fortunate that St. Louis fell into their lap. St. Louis’ full no-movement clause allowed him to pick his destination and force Lightning GM Steve Yzerman to trade him to New York.

“The opportunity to make the deal was something that we were probably fortunate to get involved with,” Sather said. “I knew that when we got Marty he would be a strong leader in his own right. It’s difficult to trade anyone. Ryan was a good player. He was a great player for us for a long time.  I think everyone knows the story that his contract was up and it was difficult to get anything done. So it was a good chance to get a good player like Marty. We knew that leadership internally on the team was strong. It was a bit of a chance, but it certainly worked out well.”

The Rangers were widely perceived as the underdog ahead of the Stanley Cup Final. With the Rangers facing a 1-0 series deficit ahead of Saturday’s Game 2, there is no skater more valuable on this team than St. Louis because of the collection of experiences he’s acquired and his willingness to dispense advice.

His message to teammates ahead of the Stanley Cup Final was to leave everything on the ice.

“Obviously, take it all in – but leave it all out there as well,” St. Louis said.

As Saturday’s swing game nears, Vigneault has challenged his players to find their “A” game. Vigneault knows that the Rangers will be in a good position should they return to Madison Square Garden with a 1-1 series split.

“We’re not going to beat this team if we do not all bring our ‘A’ game,” Vigneault said. “It is that strong of an opponent that we’re playing against.”

Throughout the playoffs, St. Louis has stayed even-keeled and promoted a dressing room culture of self-belief. When St. Louis speaks, he does so at appropriate times. He knows exactly what to say at the right times and everyone listens.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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