Ryan Callahan was the heart and soul of the New York Rangers for parts of eight seasons before moving to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now, the Lightning are hopeful that he will continue to provide that leadership as they signed him to a six-year $34.8 million deal today in free agency, according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.
Callahan spoke about the deal in a release on the team website:
"I couldn't be happier to be part of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization for the next six years and I am excited for this new chapter of my career," Callahan said. "Tampa Bay has been a great place to live and play from the day I got there. As soon as the season ended I knew it was a place I wanted to be."
Callahan seemed like the type of player who would remain a Blueshirt forever, but the two sides simply couldn't come to a contract agreement. That led the Rangers to trade their captain and hardest-working player to Tampa Bay at the deadline in exchange for forward Martin St. Louis.
That trade ultimately worked out well for the Rangers as St. Louis helped lead them to the Stanley Cup Final. As for Callahan and the Bolts, they were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. NHL.com's Pete Jensen pointed out that Callahan watching his former team go on such a deep playoff run had to be difficult:
Despite the fact that Tampa Bay flamed out in the postseason, Callahan seemed to enjoy his time with the team. He wasn't overly productive with 11 points in 20 regular-season games and no points in the playoffs, but he had nothing but good things to say about his experience with the organization, per Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times:
As much as Callahan was the quintessential Ranger, he also seemed to be a great fit for the Lightning when they brought him in. Talented young players like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat had a lot to do with Tampa's success this past season, but those inexperienced guys need someone to look up to.
St. Louis used to fit that bill, but Callahan was able to replace him in that regard. From a leadership position Callahan was able to see how much potential the Lightning have and how bright their future is moving forward, according to the team's official Twitter account:
The feeling of admiration was seemingly mutual between Callahan and the rest of the team. Head coach Jon Cooper was especially happy with what Callahan was able to contribute.
Per Missy Zielinski of Lightning.com, Cooper made it clear that he would love to see Callahan back in Tampa:
Callahan isn't a dynamic offensive player, but he has been so productive across several facets that he appealed to a wide range of teams.
With three seasons of 22 or more goals, defensive acumen, a physical style and leadership in spades, Callahan is precisely the type of player that coaches, teammates and fans love.
Callahan's agent, Steven Bartlett, was fully aware of that and knew that hitting free agency could lead to a very lucrative deal, according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times:
You don't get that many times (hitting free agency) in your career, especially at the peak of your career. Those are what you have to balance, the positive and all the good things he knows about Tampa, and what is his right, you have the opportunity to at least hear other people. That doesn't mean Tampa wouldn't be his first choice.
However, Callahan passed that up to stay with the Lightning and a familiar situation. Callahan ultimately received a big contract as expected, but it will be interesting to see if he landed in the right situation as well by staying in Tampa Bay. He is the type of player who wants to win more than anything else, so one can only assume that factored into his decision.
The 29-year-old right winger built a fantastic reputation while with the Rangers and now has a golden opportunity to further it by continuing to perform well and being a great leader for the Lightning.
Whether or not Callahan was deserving of such a big contract will be a major talking point within the NHL throughout the upcoming season, but Callahan contributes enough to a team that he should prove worthy of every penny.
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