Rangers beat Islanders; Ryan Callahan in trade rumors

Brian Boyle of the Rangers celebrates his first Brian Boyle of the Rangers celebrates his first period goal against the Islanders with his teammates at Madison Square Garden. (Jan. 31, 2014) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Friday night's 4-1 win over the Islanders at the Garden, a hard-fought triumph that shoved their rivals further back in the playoff hunt, certainly was a proud moment for the Rangers, who ended January on a 10-4-1 roll.

But afterward, the business side of the NHL elbowed its way into the locker room and at the podium.

That's because Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, an unrestricted free agent in June who has been unable to agree on a new contract, was the subject of escalating trade rumors during the game.

Reports out of Canada indicated that Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather, who is believed to want to re-sign the eight-year veteran or trade him -- possibly before Callahan leaves for Sochi to play for Team USA in a week -- had granted at least one team permission to speak with Steve Bartlett, Callahan's agent.

Asked about the reports, Callahan said "that's news to me" before adding that he was focused on the game. "My heart's here, I want to be here,'' he said. "That's all I think about on the ice."

The gritty winger, who will be 29 in March, is believed to be seeking a six- or seven-year deal at $6 million or more a year. The Rangers, who apparently have a shorter-term offer on the table, do not comment on negotiations. Bartlett did not return emails.

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Rangers coach Alain Vigneault did note: "I'm a big fan of Ryan Callahan and I know he wants to be here. Contracts have nothing to do with me, but I'm hoping both parties can come to an agreement."

On the ice, Callahan was a factor. With the Rangers leading 2-1 in the third period, he found Brad Richards with a stretch pass and Richards' low shot went through Evgeni Nabokov at 14:59. It came 2:45 after Derick Brassard fired home a feed from Marc Staal, the defenseman's second assist of the game, to put the Rangers ahead.

Ryan McDonagh had an empty-netter with one second left and Henrik Lundqvist made 38 saves, including 17 in the second period, when Kyle Okposo's goal matched Brian Boyle's tip-in the first.

The pace in the Rangers' 30th win of the season was far quicker than on the choppy ice Wednesday in the Bronx, when they edged the Islanders, 2-1. And the temperature was far warmer. Said Staal, "It felt like a sauna in the first period."

But the Callahan situation, which now will be an ongoing issue, took center stage for the Rangers.

"Any time your captain's name is thrown around in that type of situation, that's obviously a bit different than somebody else," Staal said. "He's been such an important key, important cog, since I've been here."

What the Rangers (30-23-3, 63 points) can get in return in a trade in the next seven days, before the Olympic roster freeze takes effect, is unclear. It is believed that Sather has inquired about Blues winger Chris Stewart.

If nothing is accomplished, there are nine days after the Olympics before the March 5 trade deadline.

Players are certain of one thing: Callahan's drive and consistency.

"He's been the same way for years, and everyone knows what to expect from him both on and off the ice," Lundqvist said. "It's huge for the group."

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