Apr 18, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24) skates against the Montreal Canadiens during the third period in game two of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Montreal Canadiens defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Callahan, Leading by Example

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 is a day that will forever be etched in the memory banks of all Tampa Bay Lightning fans. Some will say because the organization traded away Martin St. Louis. I am saying and will continue to say, that this day will be remembered as the day we got Ryan Callahan.

That day, Tampa radio sports talk went nuts talking about the trade. The overall feeling was split. Some were glad to see Marty go, primarily because of his petulant behavior in the weeks leading up to the trade. While, others taking that trade hard, hated to see him go. I don’t want to rehash that part of the story. St. Louis didn’t want to be in Tampa any longer and Steve Yzerman obliged.

What I want to do is talk about what we did receive in the trade. In short, one Ryan Callahan.  I realize we received a couple of draft picks as well but I want to focus on Ryan Callahan.  In seven years with the New York Rangers, Callahan put up 132 goals and 254 points in 450 games. Wayne Gretzky isn’t exactly staying up nights worrying that Ryan Callahan is going to replace him as the NHL’s leading goal or point scorer.

There are other more convoluted statistics, that I’m told show Ryan Callahan in a poor light. Frankly, I don’t think these numbers are keeping either Callahan or Yzerman up at night.

When the trade was made, my initial reaction was I couldn’t believe New York would let Ryan Callahan go. He was their captain. Had been captain since 2011.  I have said this before and I guess I’ll say it again, the captaincy in the NHL means something. It means more than any other major sport. Being a captain in the NHL is reserved for the guy on your team that you would skate through a wall for. It’s the guy who the team knows it needs to earn that playoff spot.

Look at some of the captains in the league: Jonathan Toews, Dustin Brown and Zdeno Chara. These are guys whose teams look up to and revere. It isn’t always the guy who scores the most goals or ends up on the highlight reels but the guys that without whom, the team knows, it cannot get far in the playoffs.

That was Ryan Callahan for almost half his career in New York. The day after he was traded to the Lightning, his former GM, Glen Sather, used words like character, grit, toughness to describe Ryan Callahan. His former coach, Alain Vigneault admitted his team would be losing Callahan’s “grit and fire”.

I have had a continuous disagreement with some NHL stats guys. When the Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed Ryan Callahan, many of these number guys were lamenting that the deal was bad. Too much money, they said, for a guy who doesn’t produce offensive numbers. Too long a contract, they said, for a guy whose style of play means he will get hurt too often.

I say that doesn’t matter. I responded to these stat guys that Ryan Callahan has grit and toughness. They mocked me. “How much does a GM pay for grit?” Have to admit, it bothered me. I wanted them to see my point.  I understand the role that stats play in the NHL.  I wish that some of these guys would understand the role toughness and grit play out on the ice.

I mentioned, Toews, Brown and Chara above as examples of leaders, captains of teams. It was no accident that I specifically mentioned these three. These three leaders, led their teams to the last FIVE Stanley Cups.  I bet if those stats guys looked at the stats for these guys, they wouldn’t lead the league in any quantified measurements. But if you could measure heart, they would be tops in the league.

That’s how I see Ryan Callahan. He shows heart when he blocks a shot. He shows his grit, when he goes into the corner to dig out a puck from a guy he gives up four inches and 40 pounds to. He shows his toughness, when he doesn’t miss a shift, after taking one on the ankle.

He does all these things and I can’t find any league wide measurements for this. No matter, he does all these things and more.  Keep in mind, that guys like Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik and Alex Killorn are watching him and learning from him.

Ryan Callahan goes out on that ice, night in and night out and a guy like J.T. Brown begins emulating him. Brown reminds me of Callahan so much, they seem to have been cut from the same cloth. I think Brown is the guy that will most benefit from the Callahan re-signing.

So, I’ll stick to calling Ryan Callahan things like tough and gritty. Selfless and a leader. I’ll call him all the things that his previous bosses in New York called him. I’ll call him things that some of his former teammates called him. I’ll call him every positive adjective I can find that fits. I’ll also call him one thing that I couldn’t call him prior to March 5, 2014 – OURS!

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