Why Trading Ryan Callahan Is The Right Thing To Do If A Reasonable Deal Can’t Be Reached
By Michael Aker
Ryan Callahan has a special bond with the New York Rangers fan base. He’s one of them. While he might come from Sabres country in Rochester, he’s the kid everyone grew up playing hockey with in any New York suburb. He’s wasn’t the biggest dog in the yard, nor did he have the most skill, but he worked on his craft to become a very good player in the OHL, AHL, and eventually NHL. Rangers fans appreciate this more than anything. And then there’s his will; ever since his first call up on Dec. 1, 2006 against the Buffalo Sabres, he’s done anything that’s been asked of him in order to help the Rangers win. Whether it’s hit, block a shot, penalty kill, or stand in front of an opposing goalie on the power play and take a beating from giants like Chris Pronger or Zdeno Chara, Callahan willingly does it. He never complains and plays every shift like it’s his last which are some of the many reasons he wears the C.
For the better part of three and a half seasons, the team has taken on his identity and had some pretty decent success, winning one Atlantic Division title and three playoff series. He’s always in the mix for the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, and his jersey is one of the most popular in the stands. All of this should lead to “Captain Cally” continuing his run on Broadway for the better part of the next decade, and maybe even having his jersey go to the rafters if he, Henrik Lundqvist, and some combination of 23 players can put it all together and win the Stanley Cup. But there’s a chance that he won’t make it to his 29th birthday later next month as a Ranger because of his contract demands and impending unrestricted free agency.
There’s no reason to blame Callahan or call him greedy for seeking reportedly between $6.5 and $7 million. The market dictates this as was the case with last summer’s insane contracts given to Ryane Clowe and David Clarkson. It’s nice that Dustin Brown and David Backes, two players compared to Callahan (and Olympic teammates) took slight discounts to stay with their respective teams, but Callahan has witnessed Glen Sather throw millions at the likes of Matt Cullen, Aaron Ward, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Wade Redden, and Ales Kotalik among others in his Rangers tenure. Now it’s his turn. This is in all likelihood the last large contract Callahan will receive and it would be silly for him to take a discount of millions of dollars when any shot blocked or any hit he lays can alter his game and perhaps his career. It would also be very unwise of the Rangers to give a player that routinely spends more time on the IR every season a deal worth close to $7 million annually.
Loyalty is important to friends, family, and loved ones but in sports it’s often overrated in regards to retaining players. The Islanders were too loyal to their core that won four Stanley Cups and nearly a fifth, letting most of their players retire and only getting a minimal return for John Tonelli at the 1986 trade deadline. The Devils had some very tough decisions to make in the late 80s especially following their Cinderella playoff run in 1988 by trading or letting players like Jack O’Callahan, Aaron Broten, and Tom Kurvers (who turned into a draft pick that became Scott Neidermayer!) go, but Lou Lamoriello made those choices that ultimately benefitted the club. Nearly a decade and a half later, he would turn fading fan favorite Randy McKay and still productive Jason Arnott into Joe Nieuwendyk and young Jamie Langrenbrunner. Both would help the Devils win their last championship and Langenbrunner would play almost a decade in New Jersey. The salary cap is the reason that Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd became Thrashers/Jets and did not remain Blackhawks.
The fear that trading Callahan could disrupt the lockerroom and alter the season is valid, but let’s be honest; unless the Rangers get some consistent offense from a line that isn’t the French Canadian-Norwegian connection, are they really serious Stanley Cup contenders? Also, the dynamic of the Rangers has changed. Gone are Dubinsky, Anisimov, Prust, Fedotenko, and Del Zotto. A new younger core including Kreider, Zuccarello, Talbot, and perhaps Miller, the two Swedes, and maybe even Anthony Duclair will eventually fill the room sooner rather than later.
Callahan’s presence and on-ice production might not be replaced immediately (even with his already-reduced role under the Vigneault regime) but this is an opportunity to target a young player with upside on an entry level contract that can be under the Rangers’ control for the next six to eight years (Read: cheap/young talent) plus acquire a relatively high draft pick. Veteran Chris Stewart’s name has been floating around, but other young up-and-comers like Matthew Nieto (San Jose), Devante Smith-Pelly (Anaheim), Jason Zucker (Minnesota), or Brandon Pirri (Chicago) cold be acquired depending on the market (Mr. Vanek you set it) and how desperate teams are to win. Additionally the Rangers have some young players in Hartford who can audition for the rest of the year to fill Callahan’s ice time. Jesper Fast, another right wing has been playing very well recently and already has eight games of NHL experience. J.T. Miller, although a center, is always an option. If Pouliot wasn’t attached at the hip to Brassard and Zuccarello, he too could warrant more ice time.
Just because Ryan Callahan is traded doesn’t mean he’ll be gone forever. If players like Glenn Anderson and Darren Langdon, who had brief Rangers careers, are welcome to alumni events and always get a standing ovation when shown on Garden Vision, Ryan Callahan will definitely be welcomed back with open arms. Even if there are any bitter feelings this won’t become a Jean Ratelle divorce. Callahan isn’t the kind of person to hold grudges. And many of us remember Mark Messier burying the hatchet with Dave Checketts, Tom Seaver making up with the Mets, and eventually Yogi and the Boss did as well.
Hopefully Callahan, agent Steve Barlett, and Glen Sather reach a compromise of somewhere around $6 million for a multiyear deal and all of this trade talk and saying goodbye to the heart and soul of the Rangers is nothing more than a fantasy, and there’s every chance that what Sather gets back is less productive then what he did from trading Brian Leetch (a little bit of Kondratiev, Immonen, and an unfortunate short career for Michael Sauer) but it would be a disservice to the longevity of the organization , to the paying customers, and to the potential to stay competitive for as long as possible and ultimately win a championship to let Callahan walk for nothing come July 1.
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