With all the buzz about the Erik Karlsson trade that’s coming any day/week/month/year/millennium now, there’s also been a good amount of scuttlebutt about the Rangers playing middleman in such a deal. As Dave noted yesterday, one of the possibilities for the Rangers in facilitating the eventual acquisition of Erik Karlsson by the Tampa Bay Lightning would be the return of Ryan Callahan.
This would be a doozy from a salary cap standpoint, sort of, as he’s signed for $5.8 million dollars for another two years, but the “sort of” comes in when you consider that the Rangers are not likely to be super competitive for the next two years (although I’m with Dave in that they won’t be as bad as everyone thinks) and the Rangers in any event will be subsidizing his big ol’ cap hit with the amount of players on cheap deals that they’ll have (Andersson, Chytil, Buch for another year). So it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to take him on as a way to induce TBL into sending us something sweet as a thank you for helping them find room for the best defenseman of the past billion years. Beyond that though, I have a modest proposal, first suggested by the elder statesman of the Rangers beat himself, Larry Brooks.
I think, and have written a couple of times, that Callahan would help Rangers. I'd give him the C, even if only for two years. But Rangers need more than a pick to allow Lightning to load up. They're going to have to get through TB for years.
— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) July 5, 2018
That’s right: Ryan Callahan as the next Rangers captain. A Grover Cleveland style return to eminence for the former and maybe future Ranger would be a great idea for a few reasons, most of which are emotional but some of which have practical application. Allow me to explain.
First of all, Jeff Gorton has been vocal about the need for character and leadership in this Rangers locker room, and that one of the considerations as far as future acquisitions is going to be just that. Obviously, there’s a certain hesitancy among most of us to bring in character over skill, which Cally would certainly represent to some degree but again, the Rangers aren’t gunning for the Presidents’ Trophy next year anyways. It also can’t be discounted that the kind of undying work ethic Ryan Callahan puts out every single shift is something worth having on the team, because consciously or subconsciously the younger Rangers who we’ll be depending on in the future will take note and try to emulate that when they see how endearing it is to coaches and team mates. This is the practical aspect of having him back on the team: he fits the mold of what kind of player the Rangers want their youngsters to be in terms of intangibles (yes, I did just say intangibles).
I mean just take a look at this shift, where, without a stick, he blocks shots, hustles, and does everything he can to get the puck out of the zone. Surely guys like Andersson, Chytil, K’Andre, Nils, and Kravtsov will notice that when Cally’s on the ice giving 110% the crowd goes wild – every player wants that kind of response from the best fans in hockey, and whether they can vocalize that feeling or not it’ll rub off on them just exactly what that play style means to the people on the ice, on the bench, and in the stands. I’m also going to leave my favorite goal from the former captain because it’s great and shows the kind of joy he’ll bring to the team, another great quality that’ll teach the new guys to remember that hockey is a privilege and is supposed to be fun.
There’s a bigger reason though to make Ryan Callahan captain of our beloved New York Rangers though, and you’ll have to pardon me for getting all sappy here. When he left, it was somewhat acrimonious – rumors leaked of his massive contract demands, generating bitterness from fans who, as my dad has grumpily reiterated to me multiple times, felt like they were being held hostage. He more or less forced the Rangers to trade him, a simply worst-case scenario kind of breakup that leaves both sides with a bad taste in their mouth. Sure, Martin St Louis proved crucial in our playoff run that year, but trading Callahan was an emotional low point. Eventually the reality set in, and the refrain became “it’s just business”.
But that’s a cold, empty way to understand hockey. We spend so much time building a community and showing our love for the game, and when players come along who reciprocate and thrive off that energy it’s a special thing. A player who gives absolutely everything to a team does so sincerely, outpouring all of their love for the game and the fans they have in them night in, night out. Sure, hockey is in fact business, but it’s not just business – it’s something more. I’m sure you all know this, but maybe it’s worth a reminder: hockey is part of the way we build our own meaning in an often chaotic, meaningless world. Ryan Callahan knew what the Rangers meant to us all, especially after years of mediocrity and a lack of homegrown talent. He knew he was one of the family, which implicitly means he knew that hockey is about family.
A lot of the discourse around players leaving their long-time teams is somewhat cynical, centered around the transactional idea of what players owe their teams, what teams owe their players, and how the fans factor into all of this. It usually comes down to the idea that nobody owes anybody anything in this calculus, that we’re all simply independent, and worse, alone. Hockey brings us together though, it makes us less alone, and we owe it to everyone involved, the team, the community, the future, and even Ryan Callahan to bring about a better ending to this era of the Rangers. We’re looking towards bright things ahead with a hard break from the past, but waiving Brendan Smith is no way to commemorate what came before. In order to close this chapter, to bring finality to the golden era of the Henrik Lundqvist Rangers, there would be nothing quite as fitting as demonstrating that hockey means something bigger and making Ryan Callahan captain again.