(SportsNetwork.com) - In what expects to be a bittersweet evening for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the club will welcome Steven Stamkos back into the lineup just as it gets ready to begin life without franchise mainstay Martin St. Louis.
Stamkos, who has been sidelined since Nov. 11 with a broken right leg, was cleared for contact on Wednesday and expects to play in Thursday's home game against the Buffalo Sabres.
The news of Stamkos' return, however, came shortly before the franchise traded St. Louis to the New York Rangers for forward Ryan Callahan, a first-round draft pick in 2015 and a conditional second-round choice in 2014.
St. Louis, who led the league with 60 points in the shortened 48-game season in 2013, was the captain and leading scorer for the Lightning this season with 29 goals and 32 assists for 61 points in 62 games.
The 38-year-old veteran joined the Lightning as a free agent in July 2000 after spending his first two seasons in Calgary. He helped Tampa Bay to its lone Stanley Cup title in the spring of 2004, when he was also the Hart Trophy winner as the league MVP.
St. Louis has 369 goals and 604 assists for 973 points in 1,041 career NHL games. He has one year remaining on his contract and requested a trade after general manager Steve Yzerman initially left him off the Canadian Olympic roster. Yzerman, also the GM for Team Canada, eventually added St. Louis as an injury replacement for Stamkos.
"We'd like to thank Marty for everything he has done on and off the ice during his outstanding 13-year career in Tampa Bay," said Yzerman. "He has been one of the greatest players in the organization's history, but in the end we honored his request today. We wish him and his family the best of luck as he continues his career in New York."
Callahan, who was New York's captain, is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season. If Callahan re-signs with Tampa Bay, the Rangers will receive Tampa Bay's second-round pick in the 2015 draft and the Lightning will acquire New York's seventh-round pick in 2015.
The 28-year-old Rochester, N.Y. native has 11 goals and 14 assists for 24 points in 45 games this season.
Callahan and Stamkos hope to make up for the loss of St. Louis in terms of production and leadership. Before he suffered a fractured right tibia against Boston on Nov. 11, the 24-year-old Stamkos was tied for the NHL lead in goals (14) and points (23).
Tampa Bay currently is holding onto the first of two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference and is just one point in back of Toronto for the third of the Atlantic Division's three automatic bids to the postseason. The Lightning, however, have lost two straight, three of four and five of their last seven games.
The Bolts recently posted a 1-3-0 record on a four-game road trip, but the club is beginning a stretch of six straight on home ice tonight. Tampa is 17-7-3 as the host this season compared to a 17-16-2 on the road.
Like the Lightning, the Sabres also recently traded a longtime centerpiece of their franchise when they shipped former No. 1 goaltender Ryan Miller to St. Louis on Friday. Buffalo received goaltender Jaroslav Halak from the Blues in the deal, but flipped Halak to Washington on Wednesday before he could even suit up for the Sabres.
Halak was dealt to the Capitals along with a third-round pick in 2015 in exchange for goaltender Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla.
In a separate trade on Wednesday, the Sabres dealt forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick to Minnesota in exchange for forward Torrey Mitchell, a second- round pick in 2014 and another second-rounder in 2016.
The Sabres are last in the NHL with 44 points and are headed for their third straight year missing the playoffs. Buffalo had won three in a row before losing 3-2 to Dallas on Monday at the start of a three-game road trip.
Tampa Bay is 2-0 against Buffalo this season and the Bolts have taken three of the last four meetings in this series.
The Sabres, who have a dreadful 6-18-3 road record this season, have lost in their last two trips to Tampa.