There's a juggling act to perform if you're the GM of a team involved in a trade deadline rumor. The No. 1 objective is to complete a deal that places competitiveness first, but of course, there's also public perception to deal with.
In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, rumors materialized that had the Rangers and Lightning swapping each team's captain. St. Louis has been a member of the Lightning since the turn of the century. He's won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay, has scored 365 goals for the Lightning, and won a Hart Memorial trophy in 2004.
On the other end of the deal was Callahan, the Rangers captain since 2011, a leading shot-blocking forward in the league, and a player who endeared himself to a New York hockey faithful with his wear-it-on-your-sleeve style of play.
In essence, for Glen Sather and Steve Yzerman, it was a hard bargain, for more than strictly the hockey competitiveness standpoint.
But there were also ulterior motives at play. After Yzerman, also an executive director of Hockey Canada, left St. Louis off Canada's initial roster, his relationship with the overlooked winger began to deteriorate. It led to St. Louis requesting a trade, and beginning to force his way out of the Lightning's organization.
And then there was Callahan, who was reportedly originally seeking a seven-year deal in the ballpark of $49 million, too rich for the Rangers' blood. While that term and cap number continued to regress closer to a number Sather would hand out, the message from the Rangers all along was that Callahan would either be re-signed before the deadline, or traded.
So each side had its own pressures, and each side ultimately felt this was the best deal to make given the circumstances. The Rangers sweetened the pot by adding in a 2014 second round pick (that could become a first-rounder if the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference Finals this year), and a first round pick in the heralded 2015 draft.
From a competitive standpoint, the Rangers immediately get a lot better. They add a second, legitimate scoring threat to complement Rick Nash. It's why the 2014 draft pick could end up becoming a first round pick: This deal should make the Rangers a legitimate contender to come out of the Eastern Conference this season. St. Louis will presumably take Callahan's spot in the Rangers line chart along Brad Richards, a former Tampa teammate whom he won a Stanley Cup with in 2004. The Rangers have had their struggles scoring goals since the 2005 lockout, and St. Louis should help with that problem.
Callahan presents his own problems for Tampa Bay. TSN's Bob McKenzie has already reported the Lightning might be viewing Callahan as a rental, and aren't interested in giving out the kind of long-term extension he was seeking from the Rangers. So from Yzerman's perspective, it could mean giving up St. Louis for a few months of Callahan, and two very high draft picks. Of course, Tampa could go on to re-sign Callahan, but make what you will of what that nugget says about where things got to between St. Louis and the organization.
But ultimately, this trade was a lot more than X's and O's, and dollars and cents. The Rangers certainly look like they just got better, while the grade for Tampa Bay is pending Callahan's future. Still, this was the first time in the league's history two teams swapped their captains, and both players were so universally liked by their respective fan bases, there was a lot more at stake.