Ryan Callahan might be the most universally liked New York Ranger since Brian Leetch. The first homegrown captain since Leetch, Callahan has perfectly embodied the qualities of a captain: He's the hardest worker on the ice (as seen by him winning the Steven McDonald Extra Effort award four of the past five seasons), he leads by example, and he's accountable both in and outside of the locker room.
But will Callahan be a Ranger come next season?
It's odd to think of Callahan playing for another team, but with Callahan's contract expiring at the end of this season, nothing is a foregone conclusion. Even with the NHL salary cap reportedly set to rise to $71 million, calculating Callahan's cap number will be interesting task for the Rangers' brass, as Callahan poses the unanswerable question of the value of intangibles.
His offensive contributions have been seen in seasons past. Callahan has three seasons of 20+ goals, and scored 16 in a lockout shortened 48-game schedule last season. Still on the right side of his 30th birthday (Callahan will turn 29 in March), the Rochester native has showed signs of being a potential 30 goal scorer.
Of course, that also makes these negotiations even trickier when the two sides sit down and really hash things out.
Callahan is a player who has continuously professed his love for the city, the fan base, and the franchise, and there's no reason to think those moments were tongue and cheek. But with a current cap hit of $4.275 million, Callahan is in line for a raise, and will likely in his new contract seek a term longer than three years, with an AAV north of $5 million. That's when things become sticky.
Callahan's intangibles are exponential, but not quantifiable. What is concrete is his production, his track record, and the market. Of course Callahan is a stalwart on the penalty kill, an exemplary shot blocker, and a team and league leader in hits, but those are not statistics that are the driving forces in a contract.
Callahan has never hit the 30-goal plateau. He's come close, but by no means is he considered a "30-goal guy." And not many players in the league are, but that's why those players command the salaries they do. These are the top 50 forwards in the league by cap hit, according to Cap Geek. The cutoff is right at $5 million, a number Callahan could very well seek. Whether he's willing to give the Rangers a hometown discount remains to be seen, but either way, $5 million is probably the number to keep in mind.
There are some puzzling players on that top 50 list, but, for the most part, it's filled with premier goal scorers. Looking at Callahan's similarity scores on Hockey Reference, the two active players that are within his range are David Perron and Jiri Hudler. Both of those players signed four year contracts after the 2011 season, with Perron inking for 4 years at $15.25 mil (or an AAV of $3.82 million), and Hudler getting four years, $16 million (or an even $4 million per). Both of those contracts would be pay cuts for the Rangers' captain.
Hockey is a business. Callahan's impending contract negotiation provides an interesting business decision. If Callahan was to leave New York, it would alienate a large segment of Rangers fans, barring some unforeseen and unexpected twist. It's worth asking though if a player providing what Callahan gives should command more than 14 percent of your annual salary cap. And it's not as if Callahan's contract is a singular decision. Even if the team elects to amnesty Brad Richards this summer, Rick Nash still has four more years left on his deal at $7.8 million per, Ryan McDonagh is making $4.7 million until 2019, and Lundqvist's extension will kick in next season, making him the highest paid goalie on the planet.
The other decisions the team has to make will also undoubtedly also play a role in the determination on Callahan's possible extension. Chris Kreider is a restricted free agent come season's end. Dan Girardi will be an unrestricted free agent. Derek Stepan is in the midst of a bridge contract, and will be looking for a big pay-day after next season. Mentioning the situations of other Rangers isn't meant to dilute the situation, just portray the complexities surrounding the team's decision regarding Callahan.
Many probably assume Callahan will be a Ranger next season, but the picture just may not be that clear cut. Callahan is a great hockey player, and a great New York Ranger. Whether the latter half of that statement continues to ring true just remains to be seen.
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