On Tuesday, TSN broke some surprising news during its Insider Trading segment: The New York Rangers have been talking to other NHL clubs about a trade involving team captain Ryan Callahan because they have fears about their ability to get him signed to another contract.
“They’re gauging interest in Ryan Callahan,” reported that network’s Darren Dreger. “I’m told that Rangers general manager Glen Sather has reached out to a number of general managers, and he is gauging trade interest on Callahan, less so on (defenceman Dan) Girardi. I know there’s lots of interest in Girardi, but the sense is that the Rangers are more comfortable or at least more confident that they’ll get Girardi signed.”
Both Callahan and Girardi are pending unrestricted free agents. However, there are factors that suggested they would stay where they are: Both players have spent their entire careers with the Rangers, New York has never been afraid to spend to the salary cap and the team is currently in the thick of a battle for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Why would the Rangers even be willing to consider a trade?
The simple answer is that in a salary cap world, even a rich team needs to be careful how it spends its money. That TSN report made it very clear that the Rangers would be spending a lot to retain Callahan and Girardi, with Bob McKenzie sizing up the situation this way:
The other aspect that’s interesting with the negotiations: Girardi and Callahan are both looking for long-term deals. Girardi is going to be 30 years old in the summer, and he’s looking for a seven-year deal at Jay Bouwmeester-type money, up around $5.4 million. As for Callahan, the captain of the New York Rangers, he wants a seven-year deal believed to be at more than $6.0 million per year. These guys will get that in unrestricted free agency.
Of course, as every New York fan knows, "will get in free agency" is a very different thing from "is worth." Are the two Rangers worth what they’re asking?
We will start with Callahan. Via CapGeek.com, the following is a list of NHL forwards earning in the range of $6.0 million per season:
The average forward on the list plays a minute more per game at even strength and on the power play (while playing the same amount of time shorthanded) than does Callahan and produces almost 50 percent more offence.
It is also worth noting that Callahan is in the downward slope stage of his career.
Arctic Ice Hockey’s Gabriel Desjardins found that most players reach their peak in scoring at age 25, and Callahan is fitting nicely into the pattern. After scoring at an 82-game season pace of 66 points at 25, he has slipped to 58, then 56 and now down to 44 this year.
Further, Ken Krzywicki of HockeyAnalytics.com (warning: PDF) found that players who begin their NHL careers between the ages of 20-22 typically have scored two-thirds of their career points by their eighth major league season. If Callahan finishes out the year as he has started it and follows that pattern, he will score only 125 more points before retirement.
Naturally, Callahan may be an exception, a player who outpaces historical comparisons. But as a smallish winger who plays a physical game, injury is always going to be a significant threat, and what we have seen suggests the decline has already started.
Put shortly: Callahan might get a seven-year, $42 million contract from some desperate team in free agency, but if the Rangers are smart, it will not come from them.
What about Girardi? Let’s look at comparable contracts again:
Girardi’s offence is a little shy, but that does not tell the whole story; defencemen generally get paid for point production, but time on ice is probably a better indicator. In this case, the average defenceman played 18 minutes per game at even strength, three on the power play and two shorthanded; Girardi was shy in the power-play department but ahead everywhere else.
What about age concerns? Will Girardi still be playing seven years from now? To provide a rough answer to that question, we go to Hockey-Reference.com and look at defencemen who were between the ages of 28-30 and had played at least 1,750 minutes in the NHL (Girardi is on pace for a little over 1,850) in the 2006-07 season and averaged 25 minutes or less per game overall. Here’s the list, along with minutes played per game in the seasons since:
Fully 60 percent of the defencemen on that list were out of the NHL seven seasons later.
Based on minutes played, the Rangers can be quite confident of getting four more useful seasons out of Girardi, reasonably comfortable at five and (given how present-focused the NHL is) probably even OK at six, but seven seems too long.
If Rangers management sees the situation in a manner even remotely similar to this analysis, it’s no wonder it has proceeded in the way Dreger reported. Callahan’s alleged contract demands look like a probable boat anchor, while Girardi’s request is a lot closer to reality.