The Ryan Callahan Trade

Sixty million dollars. That’s what Ryan Callahan wanted from the New York Rangers when he began his negotiations over the summer. An average annual salary and cap hit of $7.5 million was the initial asking price for the captain of the Rangers and it was the initial moment that Ryan Callahan began his exit from New York.

If Callahan had received that deal and started earning $7.5 million in 2014-15, his contract would have the same cap hit as Steven Stamkos and Pavel Datsyuk and a higher cap hit than Drew Doughty, the Sedins, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

If you don’t think that’s ridiculous, maybe trying to figure out who these three players are will make you think it is.

Player A: 28 years old, 450 GP, 132 G, 122 A, 254 PTS

Player B: 27 years old, 478 GP, 95 G, 176 A, 271 PTS

Player B: 29 years old, 421 GP, 132 G, 122 A, 261 PTS

Player A is Ryan Callahan. Player B is Brandon Dubinsky. Player C is Nikolai Zherdev. That’s right. The player who started this fallout by asking for $7.5 million per year has very similar stat lines to two former Rangers, who were and are viewed to have much less value. The difference is Dubinsky will make $4.65 million this year ($4.2 million cap hit) and Zherdev plays in the KHL and hasn’t played in the NHL in three years. 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?

Callahan is 28 years old (he will be 29 on March 21). He has scored 22-plus goals three times and has eclipsed the 50-point mark once (54 in 2011-12). He has missed 18 games this season; he missed three last season, six in 2011-12, 22 (and the playoffs) in 2010-11 and five in 2009-10. And the games played isn’t going to improve once he’s on the other side of 30 and mucking it up in the corners and blocking shots with his face.

Yes, he was the captain, homegrown and possesses the “intangibles” that make rooting for him easy and watching him enjoyable. And it’s because of these qualities and attributes that negotiations carried on for as long as they did and forced Glen Sather to continue to up his offer as far as he did, no matter how financially unsound it would be to pay first-line money to a third-liner. But blue-collar players don’t make white-collar money, and even if sometimes you would like them to, in this NHL they can’t.

So Callahan left Glen Sather no choice. The Rangers couldn’t afford to commit over nine percent of their payroll to a player of Callahan’s level and Sather’s offer turned out to not be enough for Callahan, even though it was actually too much for him.

The Rangers’ captain is now with the Lightning and not because he wasn’t wanted here or because the Rangers didn’t do everything they could to retain him. He isn’t here because he overvalued himself (or his agent Steve Barlett overvalued him) and he wasn’t able to take advantage of a perfect storm even if the Rangers gave him the opportunity to do so. That perfect storm was the idea that the Rangers would have to re-sign their captain in a win-now window to please their fans and their locker room. And they almost did. They almost overpaid for their captain, but thankfully they didn’t over-overpay for him the way he wanted.

The Rangers are a better team with Martin St. Louis than they were with Ryan Callahan. They now have an elite player and the scoring depth they have lacked and needed for so long and all it cost them was an impending free agent unwilling to accept his true value and two draft picks, who will likely never make an impact in the NHL.

This trade wasn’t the Rangers trading their captain for St. Louis. This trade was the Rangers’ captain forcing the Rangers to trade him for something before he walked in free agency and left them with nothing. It just happened to work out that St. Louis became available and only wanted to play one team and that happened to be the Rangers. And for the first time in the history of a team trying to re-sign a homegrown player, let alone their captain, the majority of the fans sided with the team. (I said “the majority” even though I wanted to say “every fan,” but I’m sure there’s someone out there who thinks he’s worth what he’s asking for.)

There is nothing to bash Callahan about for what he did for the Rangers on the ice since getting called up at the end of the 2006-07 season. He was a good Ranger and a good captain and an integral piece of getting the team over their first-round playoff hump and eventually into a conference finals appearance. But he certainly deserves to be bashed for his off-the-ice actions and negotiating tactics in which his demands would have tied too much money up in a third-liner and would have prevented the Rangers from getting over the conference finals hump for the first time in 20 years.

Callahan had the right to overvalue himself and to ask for more than he’s worth as an impending free agent and (somewhat of a) businessman. He wants to get paid what he thinks he’s worth or what his agent tells him he should think he’s worth. Unfortunately, for him and the Rangers and their fans, his self-evaluation has been and still is wrong.

If you’re ecstatic that the Rangers now have an elite talent and real scoring depth, you should be. If you’re sad that Ryan Callahan is no longer a Ranger, don’t be. Ryan Callahan could have stayed, but he didn’t care about being a Ranger. If he did, he would still be one.