When a player fans idolize is traded, it’s hard to put into words. For the Rangers and their fans, Ryan Callahan epitomized what it means to be a Ranger. Since the day he was drafted, Callahan has been a classic overachiever that’s been easy to root for. Selected in the fourth round of the 2004 Draft 127th overall, the Rochester native has been a joy to watch. As hard working a player as this city has seen, there was a reason he was so popular.
New Yorkers appreciate lunch pail players who bring their hard hats to the court, field, gridiron or in Callahan’s case, the ice. I can remember seeing him play for Team USA at the U-18 World Junior Championship and projecting him as a gritty third liner who could kill penalties. It was obvious early that he would become a fan favorite. It didn’t take long for him to become a regular. There was the memorable St. Patty’s Day 7-0 Boston massacre when he scored twice after being recalled from Hartford in ’07. He was part of a team that advanced to the second round before losing a hard fought six-game battle to the Sabres. Ironically, his hometown club that might come calling this summer if he doesn’t re-sign with the Lightning.
Callahan struggled the following year. He was sent back to the Wolf Pack before finally coming back a different player. He never saw the AHL again. It happened that quickly. In ’08-09, he achieved personal bests with 22 goals, 18 assists and 40 points in what’s still a career high 81 games. Maybe that should’ve been an indicator of what kind of player the Rangers had. It didn’t take long for the Garden Faithful to see that a player listed at 5-11, 190 would play much bigger in stature doing whatever it took to help his team win hockey games. That’s the kind of ultimate warrior he was.
Three times in his eight-year Ranger career Callahan surpassed 20 goals. His best season came when he was named captain. Under coach John Tortorella, he excelled along with former teammates Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky. The 2011-12 Blueshirts won a division title and finished with the East’s best record. Callahan established career highs in goals (29), points (54), power play goals (13) and game-winners (9). With Captain Cally, it was never about statistics. Rather the ferocity with which he played daily. The reason that team advanced to the Eastern Conference Final was due to how hard they played. The captain was the emotional leader sacrificing his body. Whether it was delivering a big hit or laying out to block a shot, he did whatever it took. That grinding style is what made the Black and Blueshirts such a tough out despite a lack of consistent scoring.
Callahan’s no nonsense approach helps explain why he won four Steven McDonald Extra Effort Awards voted on by fans as Team MVP. He exemplified what fans loved. A passionate team oriented player who accepted whatever role given to him. Predictably, his physical style resulted in injuries. The one that stands out the most was when the Rangers were desperate for a victory against Boston, he dove in front of a Zdeno Chara shot and broke his leg missing the playoffs. That was the price of winning. Not surprisingly, the Rangers were dumped out of the first round by the Capitals. Such bravery is what defined Callahan’s time spent on Broadway. A lasting image that should stick with Rangers fans.
Today, sports have become a business. Unfortunately, we saw the ugly side with the Rangers purposely leaking out negotiations that should’ve stayed behind closed doors. The organization split up a fan base on a beloved player. It’s sad that it had to end this way. Understandably, Callahan’s asking price was high. Given his role and stature, paying such a hefty price would’ve hurt the franchise over the long haul. However, you have to wonder if it would’ve been wiser to just keep him for the season’s duration and then let it reach July 1. Instead, they decided Martin St. Louis was too good to pass up with 20 games remaining. It comes at a heavy price that could hurt the Rangers future even more. Sacrificing draft picks for an older superstar who is signed only through 2014-15.
Whatever happens will determine if the Rangers are winners. They have decided to go for it. It’s just odd that it came at the expense of their former captain. One whose loss can’t be underestimated. The Rangers were already a soft team. They just became even more vanilla. That’s a risk they were willing to take.
Goodbye to Ryan Callahan. Thank you for eight great years. You’ll never be forgotten.
Derek Felix, New York Puck/Battle Of New York