TAMPA — The pained look on Steven Stamkos' face said as much as the words coming out of his mouth.
The Lightning's star center understands the business side of professional sports and that unhappy players can request trades. But something just seemed odd about Marty St. Louis, Tampa Bay's captain, asking out in the middle of a heated playoff race.
So when news came down Wednesday that St. Louis was traded to the Rangers for a package that included New York captain Ryan Callahan, Stamkos said, "I was in shock a little bit."
"We're really close friends," he added. "This was a tough situation. Your friendship takes priority, and you support your friend in that regard. You don't necessarily have to agree with them. … Marty is going to have to live with it, and we're going to have to live with it here in Tampa."
The Lightning also received a second-round draft pick in 2014 and a first-round pick in 2015. If New York reaches the Eastern Conference final, the second-round draft pick becomes a first.
And if Tampa Bay can sign Callahan, 28, who this summer can become an unrestricted free agent, the Rangers get the Lightning's 2015 second-round pick while Tampa Bay gets New York's seventh-round pick.
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman made it clear Callahan, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound ball of gritty energy, was not acquired to be a rental.
"Our intention," he said, "is to sign him."
The trade was an end point to a strange and twisting tale that might or might not have red-lined when St. Louis on Jan. 7 was left off the initial Olympic roster for Team Canada, of which Yzerman was executive director.
St. Louis eventually was added as a replacement for the injured Stamkos, and he won a gold medal. But that apparently did not assuage his feelings that he was treated unfairly by his boss.
Yzerman acknowledged that the decision to leave St. Louis off the Olympic team "had an impact" that is "understandable."
Still, Yzerman said he did not initially anticipate getting to the point where the last remaining player from the 2004 Stanley Cup team would be traded.
"I was at one point," Yzerman said when asked if he was shocked things had gotten this far. "And that's not a criticism of Marty. It's just, like, 'How did I get here? How did we get here?' "
It is not an easy question to answer, especially after Yzerman said he and St. Louis had spoken about his future with the organization before St. Louis was left off the Olympic team. "So I don't think it's simply just that," Yzerman said of the Olympics.
St. Louis has a home in Greenwich, Conn., where he and his family spend their summers. That would explain waiving his no-move clause only for the Rangers.
But it doesn't get to the heart of the matter. Yzerman said that is a question for St. Louis, and St. Louis, in a letter to fans released by the team, wrote, "I would rather not discuss what brought me to that decision" to leave.
St. Louis was left off Canada's 2010 gold-medal team, also headed by Yzerman. Though St. Louis has said the two came to an understanding, it is just the kind of situation that fuels St. Louis, former Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said.
"What I can tell you: One, he is a very, very proud guy," said Feaster, the assistant general manager in July 2000, when then-GM Rick Dudley brought in St. Louis as an unknown free agent. "He is a guy who has always had to deal with being snubbed — 'You're too small, you're too this or too that, you can't make it.' We all know that's been the fuel that has driven Marty … his entire career."
"Marty is not about frills," said former Lightning goalie Kevin Weekes, who played with St. Louis from 2000-02 and is now an NHL Network analyst. "He's a hard-working, blue-collar guy; it's steel-toed boots and flannel shirts. His commitment is unwavering. 'My GM knows me. He knows me best.' I guess in the end the last straw, from his standpoint, was he was not originally selected for the (Olympic) team."
Whatever the reasons, "If you don't have a player that wants to be there, it's not a healthy situation," Yzerman said. "So … that's why I made the deal."
As for St. Louis, Weekes said his friend had "a bittersweet day. … Even though it was his request for the trade, he was very emotional because of all the time he spent in Tampa and how much he loved being there."
Still, especially for fans, there is a sour taste that St. Louis, 38, seemed to bail with Tampa Bay fighting for its playoff life and with the team about to get a boost from the return of Stamkos, who missed 45 games because of a broken right tibia.
"He's not going to get off easy for this," Stamkos acknowledged, "and I'm sure he's thought of that as well."
Wrote St. Louis in his letter: "I respect the fact that many of you do not agree with my decision and are angry with it. All I can really say is that I am sorry and I am very appreciative of the support you have shown me through the years."
Callahan, who will be in the lineup tonight against the Sabres at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, is a different player than the highly skilled, 5-foot-7 St. Louis.
Callahan is sandpaper, plays bigger than his size and is not afraid to block shots. His 47 blocks led New York's forwards, though that came with consequences.
He missed 25 games this season with a broken thumb. In 2010 he broke a hand and in 2011 fractured an ankle.
He had shoulder surgery in May that sidelined him until October.
"Ryan Callahan is something this team needs," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "If there's one area we need to get better in it was (having) a couple guys who play with a little bit of a snarl. Ryan Callahan is going to bring us that."
"All I can do is come in and try to bring what I can to the team in my own way," said Callahan, who had 11 goals, 25 points with an average 17:56 of ice time. "I realize the emotions involved with Marty leaving, but by no means am I trying to come in and do what he did. I'm going to come in and play the way I do."
Ultimately, the key to the trade is Tampa Bay signing the two-time U.S. Olympian.
If Callahan — who reportedly sought from the Rangers a six-year deal for between $36 million and $39 million —signs elsewhere, Tampa Bay will have only draft choices as compensation for St. Louis, arguably the franchise's greatest player who this season had 29 goals, 61 points in 62 games.
Callahan's agent, Stephen Bartlett, said he first spoke with Yzerman a few weeks ago after New York GM Glen Sather gave Yzerman permission.
Bartlett called the talk "refreshing."
"There wasn't the pressure of what will it take to sign him?" he said. "It was let him get down here, let him meet us, let him understand what we're all about and we'll see where it's at. That's a great attitude to put in front of a kid when he's going through an emotional roller coaster."
In the meantime, "We're excited to have him here," Yzerman said. "He's a player I know our fans, our coaching staff will appreciate the way he plays the game."
"Are we better?" Yzerman said. "I don't know. We're different. We're going to see."