By Mike Harrington
TAMPA, Fla. -- I'm looking forward to tonight's game in the Tampa Bay Times Forum because I'm expecting a huge buzz in the building. After being out 45 games, Steven Stamkos is back. And Ryan Callahan is making his debut.
There was a playoff-level sized media horde in the building this morning for the team's morning skate and coach Jon Cooper knew something was up when he entered the room for his media briefing and saw it packed.
"It's different for sure," Cooper said. "There are so many little side stories tonight."
The return of Stamkos from his broken leg is a big one. Cooper cracked "fourth-line center" when asked how Stamkos would be used tonight. Stamkos, for his part, is happy to be on the ice and to have a resolution of the Marty St. Louis drama.
"Now that all this is over, we can kind of breathe a sigh of relief," Stamkos said. "Marty's gone, the trade deadline is over, I'm coming back. This is our group. That was the message today. We have 20 games left. No matter what happens, these are the guys we're going to go to battle with every day."
Callahan said he was surprised he couldn't get a deal done with the Rangers.
"I thought a deal was going to get done to be honest with you," Callahan said. "I thought at the end of the day both parties couldn't agree on something that worked for both of us. That' s part of the business. They felt they needed to move on so it's time for ne to move on and start a new chapter."
"My major message to him was jus, 'Don't come in here and think you have to be Marty St. Louis,' " Cooper said. "... " 'That's not what you're here for. We expect you to play as hard as you did for the Rangers.' If he gives us that type of effort, he's a home run for us."
You can listen to my audio of Callahan's interview today by clicking below