Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: What to Make of New York Rangers' Ryan Callahan Dilemma

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Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: What to Make of New York Rangers' Ryan Callahan Dilemma
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, seemingly out of nowhere, had his name thrust into trade rumors over the past week. The pending unrestricted free agent reached a contract impasse with the only franchise he's called home for 10 years, and suddenly, insiders everywhere have the straight dope on the negotiations.

He wants too much money.

He wants too many years. 

He could be traded immediately.

He needs to make a decision before the Olympic break roster freeze begins at 3 p.m. Friday.

He needs to make a decision before the March 5 trade deadline.

It doesn't make a lot of sense, seeing as how the Rangers appear secure in a playoff spot and teams making postseason pushes don’t trade their captains with 25 games to play. The Rangers are 10-3-1 in their past 14 games, and there's no reason to think they can't emerge from a mediocre Eastern Conference and reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Ryan Callahan's Past Six Seasons
Season Goals Assists Points Games missed
2008-09 22 18 40 1
2009-10 19 18 37 5
2010-11 23 25 48 22
2011-12 29 25 54 6
2013 16 15 31 3
2013-14 9 12 21 17

NHL.com

Have you ever wondered where a trade rumor comes from? A trade rumor is like a hot dog in that they are both delicious treats, but you rarely ever get to see the factory where they are processed—and if you did, you’d probably never consume them. They are also bad for you.

Trade rumors tend to emanate from a few customary sources: someone high up in a team’s front office, someone high up at the league office, an agent or some sort of wild-card person whom a reporter considers to have reliable information. That person will tell an insider guarded information for the purposes of it being disseminated through the public sphere.

Why would a source ever do this? Excellent question. Whenever you read a bit of juicy gossip from reliable folks like Bob McKenzie, Pierre LeBrun, Elliotte Friedman or Dreger, the person feeding those folks the information has a specific motivation. Sometimes it’s to take the public’s temperature on a topic—see any piece of lockout-related news ever—or sometimes it’s as simple as the source wanting to feel important and be liked by the reporter. 

So what’s the motivation behind Ryan Callahan’s name being splashed on every hockey website as a potential trade candidate? Why was the fact that Callahan wants a seven-year, $42 million (or maybe even $49 million) contract leaked to the media? That’s some pretty specific information being floated to the hockey world at a very strange time.

One trade rumor, according to Dreger, has Callahan going to the St. Louis Blues for right wing Chris Stewart, a similar player with a similar cap hit as Callahan. What allegedly makes Stewart attractive is the fact he has one more year left on his deal. OK, fine, so does that mean you're just going to hold Stewart hostage a year from now? Are the Rangers just going to trade all their UFAs for guys who have an extra year on their contracts through the end of time?

In this case, the powers that be in the Rangers front office appear to be playing a game of chicken with Callahan in order to get him to soften his contract demands. These rumors are preying on two things—fear and love. The Rangers want to use the fear of being traded from a team Callahan loves in order to get him to ask for less money, something he may consider doing because he loves being a Ranger.

In contract negotiations, especially ones during the season, the player doesn’t really communicate directly with the general manager. When the GM feels talks with the agent aren’t going well, in order to get a message through to a player he feels he may not be receiving from the agent, he will use the media to speak indirectly to the player in the hopes the player will go to his agent and say, “Hey, if we shave $500,000 per year off the deal, will this keep me from being traded? What if we went to six years instead of seven? I really want to stay here.”

And what in the wide world of sports would be Callahan’s motivation to sign with the team that acquires him from the Rangers without going on the open market? What would a team’s motivation be to part with assets to sign a guy who will theoretically be available in a few months?

General manager Glen Sather not only seems to be bluffing, but he appears to be doing so with 2-7 offsuit against a guy with pocket aces. 

There are no good or bad guys in this situation. This is just the business of sports. This is what it looks like inside the hot dog factory sometimes.

Still, why would the Rangers decide to play hardball now and with their captain of all people? You can argue whether or not Callahan is worth $6 or $7 million per season (he's not), but he would receive a similar contract from probably a dozen other teams if he hit the open market in July.

This is how negotiations work. One side asks for the world, the other counters with a Michael Corleone-esque nothing. Why wouldn’t the Rangers just table this until after the season, one that still has potential to be great?

It’s because the Rangers have painted themselves into a corner in regard to their cap situation for 2014-15, and some tough decisions need to be made.

They have 10 players signed for next season with a total cap hit of $42 million. That leaves them about $29 million in cap space for about a dozen players, which isn’t much.

Callahan, Dan Girardi, Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore are set to become UFAs after the season. The Rangers also have four prominent restricted free agents who are all deserving of raises—Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and John Moore.

Without getting into each player individually, those nine players should total around $27-28 million if the Rangers decided to bring back everyone. The Rangers have a history of playing hardball with their restricted free agents, so those four players likely won’t earn what they would if they were members of different franchises.

So if Callahan wants $7 million, you can see why $1 million or $500,000 could make a huge difference with Sather’s future payroll. It’s a shame that Callahan has to suffer (relatively speaking) for Sather’s overpaying of Henrik Lundqvist and burning through Kreider’s entry-level contract, but such is life.

This hardball session with Callahan also makes you wonder if the Rangers plan on keeping Brad Richards beyond this season. 

It seemed like a no-brainer that they’d use their second and final amnesty buyout on Richards this summer to free $6.67 million in cap space and avoid cap-recapture penalties. Richards’ front-loaded contract pays him $1 million per season during the 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 campaigns. Should he retire early, according to Capgeek.com, the Rangers will have a $5.67 million cap-hit penalty assessed for any of those three seasons in which Richards doesn’t play.   

But if Sather has made up his mind that Richards is staying, it could be why he’s publicly penny pinching his captain. If Richards was in fact a goner, that’s money that could’ve easily been allocated toward Callahan and would leave Sather with plenty of room to sign Girardi or anyone else.

Ryan Callahan's Injury History
Date Injury Duration
October 2007 Sprained knee Missed 16 games
March 2010 Right leg Missed 4 games
November 2010 Neck Missed 1 game
December 2010 Broken left hand Missed 19 games
April 2011 Broken left leg Missed final 7 games of season
March 2012 Bruised foot Missed 3 games
March 2012 Bruised foot Missed additional 3 games
January 2013 Shoulder Missed 3 games
October 2013 Shoulder Missed 1 game (offseason surgery rehab)
October 2013 Broken thumb Missed 7 games
December 2013 Sprained MCL Missed 9 games

TSN.ca

The separate debate is what Callahan will produce over the life of a seven-year contract. He turns 29 years old in March and already has a checkered injury history. He’s an undersized 20-25 goal scorer when healthy, but he plays a physical style that doesn’t bode well for his long-term health.

B/R's Jonathan Willis had an interesting look at the projected production over the remainder of the careers of Girardi and Callahan that’s worth reading on that matter

But if Sather was truly convinced Callahan would break down between the ages of 29 and 36, there would be zero negotiations taking place during the season. Sather would just be counting the days until Callahan becomes a free agent and the Rangers captain's injury potential ends up being someone else’s problem. 

Instead, Sather is negotiating, both at the table and through the media. That tells me he wants his captain signed long term, just not as long as seven years and for fewer dollars.

At least, that’s what it smells like inside the hot dog factory.

***

Here are some stray thoughts about hockey:

•Thomas Vanek doesn't want to be an Islander for the next seven years, according to (not) shocking news from Arthur Staple of Newsday. The 29-year-old Vanek will be a UFA after the season, and, go figure, he doesn't want to get locked in with a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs in an 82-game season since 2007.

Unlike with Callahan and the Rangers, the Islanders are a done deal this season, so they'll look to move Vanek maybe as soon as this week. It's hard to blame Vanek for not wanting to be an Islander for the rest of his career. His next contract likely will be his final one, so it makes sense that he wants to be the belle of the free-agency ball this summer (more on this below).

Scott Levy/Getty Images

Alex Ovechkin was a minus-five in a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jackets on Jan. 30. As if they were lions hiding in tall grass waiting for a zebra to…I don't know, be minus-five in a hockey game, they attacked. The following day, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News picked apart Ovechkin based on plus/minus. There was also this weird critique of Ovechkin's game by alleged hockey analytics person Jay Palansky with the Toronto Star that made next to zero sense.

Ovechkin has 39 goals in 52 games. Of all the problems the Capitals are having this season, their three-time MVP's plus/minus and alleged inability to make linemates better aren't any of them. Ovechkin always makes for an easy drive-by target for columnists, which is why a guy who is headed toward a 600-goal career is always under fire. He's great. He's a big name. If you can find a reason to rip him, as flimsy as it may be, people will click.

Steven Stamkos is set to make his return to the Lightning lineup Saturday, according to Damian Cristodero of The Tampa Bay Times, which means he'll play in just one game since breaking his leg Nov. 11 before going to Sochi.

He told reporters that he'll make a final decision after that Saturday game if he can play at the Olympics, but really, what would have to happen for Stamkos to pull himself from Team Canada? "I was minus-three and had zero shots, so I think Martin St. Louis should go in my place."

If Stamkos really does say he's not ready for Sochi, it would be the most selfless act in hockey history. If anyone would do it, it would be Stamkos.

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Bobby Ryan has not been scoring since he was left off Team USA on Jan. 1. He has two goals and four assists in 14 games since the snub that earned Brian Burke (perhaps undeserved) credit for keeping Ryan off the roster. Greg Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy said this slump proved Burke right. The 6th Sens (get it?) offered a strong retort, showing Ryan's underlying numbers were pretty good in January.

You know who was also quite terrible in January? Patrick Kane. He had two goals and five assists (maybe that fifth assist helps him avoid scorn) in 14 games. Did he prove anyone wrong by slumping after being named to Team USA? Even the best players in the world are bad for a month sometimes.

 

Four Questions

(If you’d like to ask a question for the weekly mailbag, you can reach me via email at dave111177@gmail.com, fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo or leave a question in the comments section for next week.)

Neither is stupid. Stupid is a strong term. I like to save that term for people who get mad at commercials that feature "America the Beautiful" sung in different languages or people who don't see the genius in the movie Saving Silverman.

Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

You can be bad at your job without being stupid. I think we've clearly crossed that line with Therrien, and we're getting close with Bergevin. Eyes on the Prize over at SB Nation spelled it all out calmly and rationally. Therrien has taken a very good possession team and rammed it into an iceberg, and now the Habs are hemorrhaging wins and points.

As for Bergevin, I think he can still go either way. He really dropped the ball on PK Subban's last contract, and now he will have to pay even more than he would have if he signed him long term two seasons ago. He hired Therrien, so that's on him. He drafted Alex Galchenyuk, which is easy to call a no-brainer, but he didn't swing and miss there. He should have used an amnesty buyout on Rene Bourque instead of Tomas Kaberle.

You should hunker down and accept that Bergevin isn't going anywhere any time soon. But if you're looking for Therrien to go, the Habs would need to either miss the playoffs or get run over in the first round.

***

Dave,

The Caps are finally picking up the pace! The offense is finally on track, and Mike Green is looking like his old form. Since he is playing so well, there would be no reason to trade him, right? Also, will Mikhail Grabovski be re-signed, and what do the Capitals have to do to win a Cup?

-MPF

Andy Marlin/Getty Images

To be fair to MPF, he sent this question in before the Capitals lost that minus-five Ovechkin game to the Blue Jackets. And as we all know, that was the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the franchise.

In regard to Green, he has been fine this season. He has nice possession numbers, and he's putting up points. But really, should anyone on the Caps be considered untouchable? Clearly, the roster they have now isn't a championship contender, so if George McPhee can get a whopper of an offer for Green, why not consider it?

As far as Grabovski goes, yes, I think the Caps will do what it takes to re-sign him. They're in a good place in terms of the salary cap for next season, and he has provided the much-needed secondary scoring they've lacked in recent years. 

As for winning a Cup, the Capitals can buy cups at any home furnishing store. There are also souvenir cups that they can pick up at stadiums or state fares. That's their best bet for a cup or Cup.

***

I have nothing but guesses on this. I think three likely destinations that make a lot of sense are Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Minnesota. A dark horse could be Colorado. Long shots are the N.Y. Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Kings are desperate for offense, and GM Dean Lombardi has showed in the past that he can make a big deal to land a forward, dealing defenseman Jack Johnson for Jeff Carter during the 2011-12 season. 

Penguins GM Ray Shero paid a high price to rent Marian Hossa for the 2008 playoffs. His team has next to nothing after the top two lines, so adding Vanek could help spread the offense around.

The Wild could use a scorer, and Vanek spent two seasons at the University of Minnesota. He is good friends with Wild forward Jason Pominville. If GM Chuck Fletcher feels his team can re-sign Vanek, maybe he deals assets for a chance at a Cup run.

The Avs have a boatload of cap room and could really use a defenseman, but they're a team that has displayed a propensity for thinking outside the box.

As for the Rangers, history shows they're not likely to make a deal of any sort with the rival Islanders. They've made two deals with each other in 42 years. But the Rangers would welcome another scorer (despite all this Ryan Callahan nonsense) and have defense and forward prospects the Islanders need.

The Senators just received an influx of cash thanks to a new TV deal, so maybe they'll pony up the bucks to take on Vanek's deal for the rest of the season. It's probably the longest of long shots.

Best guess—I'll say the Penguins win the Vanek sweepstakes.

***

(Finally, this goes back to last week's Bag Skate mailbag when the topic of shooting first or second in a shootout was discussed.)

Hi,

If you genuinely were interested in finding out the numbers on shootouts won or lost by the team shooting first, (a) watch the games, nerd, and (b) the attached covers it (not something I just prepared, which may or may not be less embarrassing than having recorded the numbers for a while).

Basically, it doesn't matter at all if you shoot first or not, which if nothing else makes some teams' cod-psychological strategies look pointless. Reminds me of some B.S. story Tom Renney came out with when he was with the Rangers about how he often opted to shoot second because of Lundqvist, when he'd actually never done it at that point, but I digress...

-@LW3H

So there you have it. Shooting first or second, much like a widget when Thornton Melon was attending business classes, doesn't matter.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

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