Simply put, Callahan’s contract demands made him the odd man out.
Now a week removed from the trade deadline, many Ranger faithful are still reeling from the trade that sent Captain Cally to Tampa. Most were convinced that Sather would re-sign his captain, as the position has been reserved primarily for long-term leaders under his management (Messier, Drury, Jagr, and Callahan since Sather took the wheel in 2000). But Sather did the only thing he could.
Much has been made about the draft picks the Rangers sent to Tampa, and who came out ahead beyond this season, so I won’t go into that here. But I do feel like the moving of the Ranger Captain was the right thing to do, and was Sather’s only real option.
To really understand why Callahan was traded, you have to look at his initial demand: 7 years, $49M. The strategy here was most likely that Sather likes to play hardball (see Derek Stepan), and they wanted to skew the negotiations up at the start. Unfortunately it looks as though this initial starting point soured Sather, who cooly responded offering 5 years, $30M. So that you can fully understand those deals in context, here’s a list of similarly priced forwards, courtesy of CapGeek:
Callahan was asking to be paid like a Top 20 forward, but his point production (25 points upon his trade) didn’t even crack the top 200. Now I know that Callahan brings a lot of “intangibles” to the Rangers. He was their captain, he was a heart and soul player who fought every shift, made hits, killed penalties, and blocked shots. But you’ll notice something about that list of players up there. With the exception of maybe Scott Hartnell, there are no role players on that list. And I say maybe Hartnell, because even he has 40 points this year while playing a grittier, hard-checking game than most. So in the more general sense, Callahan was asking for much more than he’s truly worth. And Sather had even agreed to pay more than he was really worth. But to understand what a deal like that would have meant for the Rangers, let’s take a look at their salary situation, again, courtesy of CapGeek:
The Rangers currently have just under $18M available next year (provided the cap rises as expected). Now, assuming the Rangers had re-signed Callahan to his original asking price, that number would have dropped to approximately $16.5M. Now take another look at next years free agents. Stralman, Zucc, Pouliot, and Kreider could probably all be had for between $13M and $14M total, which only leaves room for about two or three more players out of the 7 that will be up for renewal. And one of those players is Derek Brassard, who already makes $3.2M a year, and plays center, making him a player the Rangers can’t afford to let walk. Players that will probably end up testing the market are Falk and Carcillo, and the only players who could realistically be expected to take a pay cut are Brassard (perhaps getting down to $2.8M) and Boyle ($1.5M minimum). It’ll be a tight fit, but without Callahan to worry about, Sather could conceivably keep his team primarily intact, and even augment it with one big adjustment:
Plenty of people thought that the acquisition of Martin St. Louis means that Brad Richards will stay, but truly, the only way to sustain the team long-term is to buy him out. Eliminating the second highest cap hit on the team frees up $6.67M to sign another center. Paul Stasny, Derek Roy, Mikhail Grabovski, and David Legwand are all centers of comparable skill who could be had for much cheaper with much less long-term risk attached to their contracts. Had the Rangers bit the bullet and bought him out last year, they could have made a play for Valtteri Filppula, who’s soaring towards a 60 point season in Tampa despite a missing several games to injury.
Both players will/would be sorely missed, and for their leadership on and off the ice as much as their point production. But Callahan sealed his fate with his initial contract demand, and for the long-term stability of the franchise, Captain Cally had to go. And for similar reasons, Richards should soon follow.