‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Long before the clock strikes 3 p.m. on NHL trade deadline day, March 5, Rangers fans will have to accept a harsh reality: Their organization values top-pairing defenseman Dan Girardi more than captain Ryan Callahan.
And rightfully so.
Girardi is a steady, minute-eating ironman with a right-handed shot. The rugged 29-year-old blue liner is capable of shutting down some of the league’s top forwards, yet has a tendency to avoid injuries and costly penalty minutes. Those kind of players don’t grow on trees.
Despite logging between 22 to 27 minutes on most nights and fully committing himself to dirty work and ceaseless shot-blocking, Girardi has played in 513 of 517 possible regular season games over the last seven seasons.
There isn’t a fear that Girardi will decline significantly with age. That’s why the Rangers won’t have any problem handing over a six-year deal that will exceed $5.5 million per year. Girardi is reportedly seeking a long-term deal nearing $6 million per year.
The opposite can be said of Callahan, as he’s somewhat undersized and prone to injury. There is a concern that he could suffer a significant decline in production and fall victim to frequent injuries as the years go on.
Any team ready to sign Callahan to a six- or seven-year pact will likely have a bad contract on their hands in the final years of the deal. Callahan’s agent, Stephen Bartlett, has not budged from his client’s demand of a seven-year contract above $6.5 million per season.
You might be saying that Girardi and Callahan have a lot of similarities. That’s true. They’re both all-for-the-cause players who have worn the Rangers’ sweater with pride. Together, they’re played tremendous roles in restoring the luster to the Rangers’ crest in the salary cap era.
The difference is that Girardi is clearly the safer long-term investment and more willing to come to a compromise to remain with the Blueshirts.
CALLY HAS 1 SKATE OUT THE DOOR
It’s become abundantly clear that Callahan will be traded by the Rangers before the deadline. On Tuesday, TSN hockey analyst Darren Dreger mentioned on two separate television programs that there’s a “99 percent chance” that Callahan gets traded.
Rangers general manager Glen Sather is understood to be against the scenario of allowing his captain to walk away and test unrestricted free agency without compensation.
The St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning are the two most publicly known teams interested in Callahan. More contending teams will emerge as suitors for Callahan as the days get closer to the trade deadline.
Don’t rule out the possibility of Callahan being used as part of a megatrade that brings Martin St. Louis to New York. The Lightning’s brass have yet to deny reports that St. Louis requested a trade after initially being left off Canada’s Olympic roster by Lightning/Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman.
It’s a shame these are likely going to be the final days of Callahan’s eight-year tenure with the Rangers. The Blueshirts sure could use “Captain Cally” for one more run at the Stanley Cup.
This team will miss Callahan immediately, and probably for the next three to four years. It’s not easy to replace a player who wears his heart on his sleeve and inspires men to follow his example.
That being said, why Sather and the Rangers are reluctant to give Callahan the lucrative seven-year pact he desires makes a lot of sense. Considering the fears of declining production and injury concerns, it would be a difficult contract to swallow in its final years.
On Tuesday, the Rangers recalled forward J.T Miller from Hartford of the AHL. The 20-year-old is a safe bet to be in the lineup for Thursday’s home game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Miller has bounced frequently between the AHL and NHL throughout his young career. Prior to his Tuesday recall, he recorded 17 points, including 14 assists, in the 18 games he spent with the Wolf Pack following his Jan. 11 demotion.
In 26 games for the Rangers this season, Miller has two goals and two assists. He is a minus-7 and has delivered 47 hits.
Grinding winger Derek Dorsett is ready to return from a long absence, but Miller is more versatile and capable of slotting onto the right side of the Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard line that is currently missing injured leading scorer Mats Zuccarello.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault could opt to keep his other three lines intact and give Miller the chance to get significant minutes should he be paired with Brassard and Pouliot.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.
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