Closure to the Ryan Callahan Trade

It’s been over a week since the Rangers traded their captain and the Martin St. Louis era started in New York. The Ryan Callahan negotiations started at eight years, $60 million over the summer and ended with him becoming a Tampa Bay Lightning thanks to a combination of misunderstanding the market, an inaccurate self-evaluation and bad advice.

On Wednesday, Ryan Callahan talked with Mike Francesa on WFAN and it went pretty much as I thought it would with the exception of Callahan calling Francesa “guy” at the end of the interview. Callahan went into detail about his trade and the negotiations and his new team to give closure to the Ryan Callahan era.

On his feelings on being traded.

“I think at first, obviously, there was a little bit of initial shock when you realize you’re moving to a different team, but now that I’m here in Tampa, the organization here has been great welcoming me and the team and after getting a couple of games under my belt I’m definitely comfortable and really happy here.

I’m not sure Ryan Callahan is “definitely comfortable” playing hockey in Tampa Bay a week after he was the captain and No. 2 face of an Original Six franchise. But if he says he is comfortable there then I will pretend that the Rochester native really already enjoys playing hockey for the Lightning and playing home games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum rather than Madison Square Garden. (If his answer has to do with the year-round weather outside the rink then it makes a lot more sense.) If the “initial shock” is gone then what form of shock is Callahan experiencing now because he certainly experiencing some level of it.

On if he would have done anything different during negotiations.

“No, I don’t think so. We knew this was a possibility if both sides didn’t agree on something and at the end of the day we couldn’t find something that both sides liked and we knew this could happen and you have no bad feelings toward the Rangers organization or anybody there. It’s an unfortunate part of the business and you have to move on now.”

Even though Callahan says he knew it was a “possibility” I don’t think he ever thought it was actually a possibility. To him, he thought he had it made given his status as the captain, his homegrown and fan-favorite pedigree, the Rangers being in a win-now window and that Glen Sather never stands his ground against making bad financial decisions. But for the first time in Sather’s Rangers tenure, he decided he wasn’t going to give in to Callahan’s ridiculous, yes ridiculous, asking price and jeopardize the future of the franchise for a 20-goal-scoring third-liner.

The rumors and negotiations are only over for now. Callahan will have to go through this all over again once he is officially a free agent. Since the trade, Callahan’s agent, Steve Barlett, has said, “You can take 10 percent less in Florida than New York and have it be the same amount of money,” which essentially reads like an agent who realizes he was called on his bluff and is trying to change perception before Callahan inevitably ends up taking much less money than what the Rangers’ final offer was to him.

I’m glad that Callahan doesn’t have any bad feelings toward the Rangers since why would he? The Rangers went over the top and came dangerously close to his asking price and damaging their eventual cap space and it still wasn’t good enough for Callahan. Trades and negotiations are an unfortunate part of the business, but asking for a nearly 50 percent salary increase for the years in which you will be at the end of and out of your prime isn’t unfortunate, it’s ill-advised.

On if he was surprised to be traded.

“I was surprised. I knew there was that chance definitely and we were talking the last couple of days and I really thought something would get done. But at the end of the day, like I said, we couldn’t find something mutual and the Rangers had to move on.”

And that ill-advised process came from Callahan and his agent, who somehow started negotiations with the Rangers over the summer at eight years, $60 million ($7.5 million average annual) for a player whose career stats closely resemble former Rangers Brandon Dubinsky and Nikolai Zherdev. Here is what I wrote last week about the comparisons:

What if John Tortorella had named Dubinsky the captain before the 2011 season? He was coming off a 24-30-54 season and was younger, as blue-collar as Callahan and just as homegrown as him too. Would it be reasonable for Dubinsky to ask for an eight-year, $60 million contract?

The answer is no. Callahan was fortunate that he was named the captain over Dubinsky (because Tortorella preferred Callahan over Dubisnky and was never really a Dubinsky fan) and then Callahan and his agents went on to overplay their hand by thinking a “C” on a jersey was worth elite scorer money. But I guess that can be expected from an agent who does things like retweet a Matthew Barnaby tweet saying, “Saw Steve Bartlett at the game today. One of the classiest agents out there.” Andrew Ference is also an NHL captain, so it would only make sense that he ask for Zdeno Chara money when it’s time for him to negotiate a contract, right Steve?

On where he thought the Rangers were headed.

“I thought we had a good chance to do something special. We started off the year kind of tough, but we were really starting to find out stride there of late. It’s so tight in the East Conference, we were in that playoff battle, so I was excited about going on a run with them, but things change and now I’m doing it with Tampa.”

The Rangers’ chances of doing something have improved by the subtraction of Callahan and the addition of St. Louis. That’s not because Callahan was detrimental to the team’s success, but because St. Louis at times has the ability to be one of the best players in the league. The Rangers needed to change their brand of hockey, which has meant an annual early exit from the playoffs (with the exception of 2011-12 when they needed to come back down 3-2 in the first two rounds) and they needed to add real scoring, even if it seems like their scoring depth has improved with this year’s roster and Vigneault’s offensive system. The Rangers lost an on-ice leader, a penalty killer, a shot blocker and a true grinder, but they have enough of those. What this team needed and has needed since the end of the 2007-08 season is more than one person who can be relied on to score and now they have that.

On what he will remember most from his years with the Rangers.

“There are a lot of things. I spent almost eight years there just from playing at the Garden, the fans there are unbelievable how they treated me how they accepted me. I think the biggest things though are the friends I have made. Lifelong friends within the organization and teammates that I have played with. There are a lot of good memories in New York and it’s something that I’ll miss.”

I think it’s safe to say that Brad Richards isn’t one of the lifelong friends that Callahan made in New York. Richards took some shots about Callahan’s locker room leadership in the New York Post, which included saying, “Nothing is really going to change in the way we approach things in the room.”

Now I’m sure Richards could care less about Callahan leaving since in return it brought the Rangers Martin St. Louis, who helped make Richards the player he is today, or at least the player he used to be and the one the Rangers thought they were getting. With Richards on the same line as his old Tampa Bay teammate and with Callahan gone and an extension not typing up additional money, it means Richards’ chances of staying with the Rangers and not being bought out have improved, which is all Richards should care about. Because it’s a business, right?

Nothing I write that seems to be anti-Callahan and none of the negativity that has stemmed from the negotiations and his eventual trade is about Ryan Callahan the New York Rangers captain. It’s about Ryan Callahan the impending free agent and businessman.

Callahan is certainly missed for what he brought to the Rangers in every game he played. But in a couple years when his best days are behind him and his heart-and-soul style isn’t as valuable as it was in his 20s, those who were against Sather’s decision to not commit to overpaying to keep him will understand.

On how playing for Alain Vigneault was different than playing for John Tortorella.

“Well, obviously the philosophies change and coaching styles change, I think everybody can see that … a little bit more of an offense-minded game. Like I said, we had a tough start to season and I think that’s just adjustment and getting used to everybody, the new coaching staff, the new systems. As of late before I got traded there, I felt like the past couple months we’ve been playing good hockey.”

Alain Vigneault has said the right things about Ryan Callahan and his captaincy all along, but there’s after St. Louis, the happiest person to have St. Louis on the Rangers is Vigneault and I don’t think he cares that it came at the price of losing a captain he inherited.

On if he thought he was going to stay with the Rangers.

“Yeah, I mean I wanted to stay there. I thought I was going to. The whole time in my head I never thought about getting traded or leaving at free agency time. My goal was to get something done with New York and unfortunately it’s the part of the business that’s not fun. We couldn’t find something that both sides could agree upon and were happy with and this is where it ends up.”

“I was optimistic right on through. I knew the way negotiations go. There was going to be difference in opinions and there was going to be difference in numbers, but I truly felt, as I said in the media all along, that I thought something was going to get done and I was trying to get something done.”

If Callahan wanted to stay here, he could have and he would have. I think he “wanted” to stay here in the sense that “I want to stay if the Rangers meet might ridiculous price,” but clearly he didn’t “want” to stay in the sense that “I am willing to come off my number and give somewhat of a hometown discount to be a career Ranger. He only wanted to stay if the Rangers met him at his number and not if they met him even close to that number.

We are a week removed from Ryan Callahan being a Ranger and a week into Martin St. Louis being one. It’s time to move on. I have.

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