It seems like it was so long ago. The rumors. The contract demands being leaked to the media. The standoffish responses to the media. The countless "is this Ryan Callahan's last game with the Rangers" articles, tweets, Facebook posts and any other way people get their information from the Internet.
In truth it was almost a year ago. On January 31st I wrote this article about how sometimes you need to separate your heart from hockey. The point of the story? Callahan wasn't worth the contract he wanted. Or, as I put it back then:
Nothing bad can come from having Callahan on the New York Rangers. He makes the players, fanbase and organization proud every time he steps on the ice. But that term is simply too much. Callahan is dangerously close to (if not already in) the "injury prone" zone. It's not his fault, it's just his body breaking down with his style of play (ironically the thing everyone loves about him). Maybe that hasn't happened yet, but it's going to happen eventually. Every player watches their body break down at some point. Callahan is no different, but with his aggressive style of play it wouldn't be surprising if his body was breaking down at an accelerated rate. Sure, he might have four or five great years left in him; but what if in two years he's not the normal Ryan Callahan? What if he isn't the normal Ryan Callahan with four or five years remaining on that contract? What happens then?
You all know what happened next. The Rangers traded Callahan away for Martin St. Louis. Emotions were mixed. Then the Rangers marched to the Stanley Cup Final. St. Louis wove himself into the fabric of the fanbase so deeply it's almost like he's been here all along. After everything that happened in the playoffs it's impossible not to root harder for St. Louis than anyone else on the ice. You can hear it when he scores. Everyone loves St. Louis.
That's not to take away from Ryan Callahan, though. Callahan was a great Ranger who did great things while he was on Broadway. Same goes for Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman. Same goes for a slew of players who were either traded away or moved on.
I loved the time they spent on the Rangers. I loved rooting for them. They're all good hockey player who did good things and did better things off the ice. Sometimes, though, life is about moving on. There were people who didn't think the sun would rise again when Callahan was traded. But it did. And the Rangers ended up being much better for it.
Look, I've got no right to tell anyone how they can or cannot root for their hockey team. You're adults and you can do what you want. Do you want to throw yourself on the floor because the Rangers signed Dan Boyle instead of Stralman? Go ahead. You still hate the Callahan trade? That's fine. You wish the Rangers found a way to keep Boyle and resent them for it? Sure.
My point is you can love the past without hating the future. I can't stand the people who live in the past and use it as an excuse to complain about today. It doesn't happen very often here because you guys rock, but I see it enough that it gets overwhelming. It's possible to love all the players who are gone without hating the guys you have on the ice.
I started the story last year with the phrase "sometimes sports is a business." It's true, especially when you need to face your business decisions somewhere down the line.
Tonight will undoubtedly be awkward. Tonight will also provide some closure, since the trio will be returning to the Garden for the first time. The Rangers will give a tribute video -- or at the very least salute all three -- and the roars will probably be louder for Callahan than the others. And then the cheering will subside, and the crowd will go back to rooting against them because they play for another team.
Maybe the fanbase can finally do the same thing.