Top Shelf: Rangers right to balk at Callahan's demands

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Updated: 2/04 3:20 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Ryan Callahan always seemed like a guy destined to be a New York Rangers lifer.

A native of Rochester, N.Y., the versatile forward has come a long way since being a mid-round draft pick of the Rangers in 2004. Callahan first had to prove he was an NHL player before reaching his current status as the Blueshirts' popular captain.

Now it seems the gritty winger and impending unrestricted free agent could become trade bait due to lofty salary demands reportedly sought by Callahan and his agent Steve Bartlett.

The New York Post originally reported Callahan was seeking a seven-year, $42 million extension from the Rangers, but a more recent TSN.ca report suggests the 28-year-old is seeking somewhere between $45.5 and $49 million over seven years. The same reports suggest the Rangers have responded to those demands by shopping Callahan on the trade market.

Although the NHL's trade deadline isn't until March 5, there is a chance Callahan, a member of this year's U.S. Olympic team, could be traded before the league goes on hiatus for the Sochi Games later this week. There have been reports of the St. Louis Blues willing to part with power forward Chris Stewart in a deal for Callahan, and that may be enough for the Rangers to rid themselves of a salary extension headache.

Considering the humble beginnings to his professional hockey career, it's easy to be impressed with Callahan's success as an NHLer. However, that doesn't mean any team, the Rangers included, should be willing to devote $6.5 million a year or more in cap space to Callahan for the next seven seasons. That is especially true when one realizes that the 2013-14 season has been an injury- plagued one for Callahan, who only has nine goals and 12 assists over 39 games.

Don't get me wrong, Callahan can offer his help in many ways, but he could be best described as a "Jack of all trades and master of none." Versatility is a good trait to have in any sport, but it doesn't trump things like natural scoring ability, a tool for which NHL teams will pay a premium.

The big contracts typically go to guys like New York Islanders winger Thomas Vanek, who presently seems more interested in reaching the free agent market this summer than signing an extension with the Isles. Like Callahan, Vanek could be on the move from the New York area before the Olympic break begins on Sunday.

After the Rangers picked him in the fourth round (127th overall) at the 2004 draft, Callahan paid his dues in juniors and with the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack before finally sticking with the big club in 2007-08. The fact that he is a three-time 20-goal scorer is a testament to his determination and work ethic, but it doesn't mean New York should break the bank just to keep the captain in the fold.

If Callahan's reported salary demands are to be believed, the low end of that spectrum would have the Rangers' captain taking up as much cap space as Boston two-way centerman Patrice Bergeron, who signed an eight-year, $52 million extension with the Bruins last summer.

That deal carries an annual average value (AAV) of $6.5 million a season -- the same amount a seven-year, $45.5 million contract for Callahan would cost. Bergeron, however, is a former Selke Trophy winner as the league's top defensive forward and has been called the league's best all-around player by some.

Callahan, on the other hand, could reasonably be called a poor man's version of Bergeron. He boasts some of the same qualities as Bergeron, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an NHL GM who would take Callahan over the Bruins' valuable forward.

There is a chance the Rangers are playing hardball and are simply leaking inflated numbers to the press to try to weaken Callahan's negotiating stance. Multiple reports suggest the team offered its captain a five-year, $30 million extension, which is a fair deal but still nowhere near what Callahan is purportedly asking.

Maybe this scenario would've played out better for Callahan if John Tortorella was still behind the New York bench and not Alain Vigneault. It's no secret Callahan was a favorite of Torts, who switched jobs with Vigneault over the summer to become the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, but Vigneault's style doesn't seem to value gritty and hard-nosed players as much as the previous coach's style.

Players and teams often negotiate through the media and things can look pretty bleak when that happens. Nevertheless, there is a chance this public posturing could soon give way to a finished deal between Callahan and the Rangers.

Although for that to happen, it will likely be because Callahan backed off his demands, not New York.

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