‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Tick, tock … the March 5 NHL trade deadline is drawing near.
Pending unrestricted free agents Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi will become two of the hottest trade deadline commodities should they fail to put pen to paper on fresh extensions with the Rangers.
General manager Glen Sather cannot allow either to simply walk away and enter unrestricted free agency. It’s his responsibility to at least gauge the interest of rival GMs in the event that talks with either player reaches a stalemate.
Should Callahan and Girardi not back down from their “superstar deal” demands, they will not be wearing Rangers sweaters beyond March 5.
On Tuesday’s edition of TSN Insider Trading, Bob McKenzie reported that both Girardi and Callahan are seeking seven-year extensions that would pay them a salary on-par with star players.
“Girardi is going to be 30 years old in the summer and he’s looking for a seven-year deal with Jay Bouwmeester-type money, up around $5.4 million per season,” McKenzie said. “As for Callahan, the captain of the Rangers, he wants a seven-year deal believed to be at more than $6 million a year.”
There will certainty be a trade deadline bidding war for either Callahan or Girardi if they fail to budge off their demands. Should that scenario play out, it would be ludicrous for Sather not to take a deal that could net the Blueshirts either two “A-level” prospects and a high draft pick — or perhaps some combination of established players under contract beyond 2014, prospects and picks.
There’s no way that Sather lets two big assets walk, leaving the Rangers empty-handed.
IT’S UP TO THESE TWO TO DECIDE THEIR FATE
Callahan and Girardi essentially have two options.
1.) Take less overall dollars and shorter-term deals to remain with a competitive, first-class Rangers organization on the upswing under new head coach Alain Vigneault.
Henrik Lundqvist could have chosen to explore free agency in search of top dollars, but he made it abundantly clear he wanted to remain a Ranger and eventually agreed to a seven-year, $59.5 million contract extension.
Granted, neither Callahan nor Girardi possess equal importance to the Rangers franchise as “King Henrik.” Still, they are valued by the Blueshirts — just not to the extent that Sather would hand over superstar-level extensions.
2.) Stick to their demands of seven-year deals and find themselves traded to immediate Stanley Cup contenders in a rental situation before hitting unrestricted free agency.
The Rangers would then have to get in line like everyone else this summer and make their pitches to Girardi and Callahan.
It would be likely in this scenario that both Callahan and Girardi would get the seven-year mega-deals they desire — but just not from Sather and the Rangers.
HAS THEIR VALUE TO THE RANGERS DECREASED?
To the vast majority of Rangers fans, the thought of Sather trading Callahan and Girardi would essentially be ripping the heart and soul out of this team.
They are indeed all-for-the-cause foot soldiers, but let’s be honest: both of these players have already peaked in on-ice value and each are playing slightly diminished roles under Vigneault.
Girardi averaged a whopping 25:25 of ice time per game last season. In 2013-14, his TOI average is down to 22:39 per game. Same goes for Callahan. In his final season under John Tortorella, Callahan was logging 21:31 TOI per game. That number has dropped to 17:54 this season.
Neither are the pure definition of star players, though both possess intangible qualities that make them more valuable in playoff battles.
Callahan’s all-out style of play is what separates him from other players, but could also be his undoing. He appears to be the kind of player whose wiry body is not built to endure long-term punishment as evidenced by him missing significant stretches this season due to injury.
His offensive production has taken a dip this season as he’s on pace for 35 points in 65 games.
Girardi is the far more durable of the two. He’s pretty much an 80- to 82-game player every season.
The veteran defenseman initially struggled to grasp Vigneault’s system, which requires a greater emphasis on skating and quick, intricate passing. However. Girardi has raised his game in the recent months.
HOW WILL THIS PLAY OUT?
The NHL’s trade freeze ahead of the Sochi Olympics begins on Feb. 7 and lifts on Feb. 23 — just 10 days before the March 5 trade deadline.
It appears Girardi would be easier to sign and is the more difficult to replace of the two. It’s hard to find a right-handed minute-eating defenseman who is as effective as Girardi. The Rangers recently acquired a player with similar attributes in Kevin Klein, though overall acquiring these players is a rarity.
As for Callahan, his leadership value is difficult to put a dollar figure on. He may feel he’s worth upwards of $6 million per year for over seven years.
A number of teams, most notably the Buffalo Sabres, would be desperate to mold their roster in Callahan’s image and Callahan grew up in Rochester, which is only a one hour and fifteen minute drive away on I-90.
Location and top dollars aside, would Callahan be willing to join a team like the Sabres that are in the process of a lengthy rebuild? That’s the big question.
To ballpark it — I say there’s an 85 percent chance Girardi agrees to a extension with the Rangers and a 60 percent chance Callahan signs an extension to remain this team’s captain.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.
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