In his eighth season as a Ranger, and perhaps his most challenging because of injuries, preparing for the Olympics as a member of Team USA and hardball negotiations on a contract extension, Ryan Callahan repeatedly had insisted that he wanted to remain in New York.
But according to Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather, who cut the cord with the team's gutsy captain by shipping him to Tampa Bay Wednesday for high-scoring winger Martin St. Louis, it was an attempt to guarantee that the right wing would stay here as long as he wanted that forced Sather's hand.
"We were getting closer on the money," Sather said at Madison Square Garden a few hours after talks broke down. "When this thing got started it was eight years and an awful lot of money for Ryan Callahan or for anybody else, unless you're a first All Star, a player that's won Stanley Cups. [But] the no-trade is the one thing that really bothered me in the end; it really ties your hands. I know it's nice for the players to have security, but 'no-trade' . . . is a tough deal."
In the final days, Callahan, 28, had lowered his demands to six years and about $39 million, but it wasn't quite enough for Sather, who drafted him in 2004 and praised the Rochester, N.Y., native as "hard-working, tenacious . . . terrific . . . well-respected by the organization and the fans."
To be sure, the Rangers will miss Callahan's intensity and intangibles, his forechecking and shot-blocking, but the drawbacks included whether his value and durability would be commensurate with a substantial cap charge through 2020, and whether the team had enough flexibility to sign current and future free agents, given the salary cap.
"I just didn't think we could go as far as Ryan's agent wanted, and we had to get out of it at some point," said Sather, "and it leaves our [financial] future a little more open down the road."
Sather had pressured Callahan's camp, which also was eyeing a possible major payday in July if he hit the market, to forge a deal before the Olympics. But the bargaining went in fits and starts. "We got too far down the line to come back. You get to an end point, and you can't go any farther, and we were there," Sather said.
Callahan, who practiced with the Rangers at the Garden in the morning, was gone by the early afternoon, and will play for the Lightning Thursday. He admitted that he was initially "shocked" in a phone interview with Canada's TSN. "I truly thought we would work something out that worked for both sides. I said all along I wanted to stay there, but it's part of the business. I have nothing but great things to say about the Rangers."
How long Callahan and his family will stay in Tampa beyond June is unclear.
"Right now you just get down there and get settled, get used to my surroundings," he said. "Once that happens, I'm open to anything . . . if there's contract talks; if not, we'll see what happens in July."
Former teammates had only good things to say about Callahan. "It's tough to see him leave," Henrik Lundqvist said after the loss to Toronto. "In the end, this is the way we decided to go as a team . . . Seeing a good friend and teammate leave, I'm not sure how to feel right now."
Said Marc Staal: "When your captain gets traded, it's going to be a bit of a shock for everyone. There was a lot of talk leading up to it, we were thinking that it was going to get done, but that's the way hockey goes."
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