TAMPA, Fla. — Ryan Callahan heard the talk. He knew in conjunction with a possible trade for Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, the Lightning were looking to ease potential cap issues and had touched base with the Rangers about sending the once-captain and his $5.8 million cap hit through 2019-20 back from whence he came at the 2014 deadline. Back to Broadway.
“Honestly, I tried to ignore it all, but it wasn’t easy,” Callahan told The Post before Monday’s match here against the Blueshirts. “For myself as a player and for my family, I’m happy here and didn’t want to go anywhere. The success we’ve had the last four years, going to two conference finals and one final, all I want is to win the Stanley Cup.
“I think we’ve got a great shot at it this year and [the Rangers] seem to be in a bit of a different place. But saying that, I’d have been comfortable back in New York. I have no issues with anyone there. I wouldn’t have had to make much of an adjustment at all going back.
“Nothing against the Rangers, but obviously I’m happy here. My family and I love it here. I’m glad nothing happened. This is where I want to be.”
Not much mystery in the reason why, either. The first-place-overall Lightning entered the match at 23-7-1, with six straight victories in which they scored 30 goals, and winners of nine of their past 10, during which they had scored 47 times. They are primed to make another run at the chalice.
Callahan, who played six-plus years on Broadway before coming here as part of the captain exchange, which sent Marty St. Louis north, knows this may be his last, best chance at winning a Cup.
“I’ve thought that for the last two or three years,” said No. 24, who will turn 34 in late March. “It’s hard to keep teams together long under the cap, and we’ve had a great run here. You never know how long it’s going to last. And in the new NHL, 33 is old. So it crosses my mind.
“All I think about is winning. That’s all I want.”
Callahan has almost as many former Ranger teammates on the Lightning as Blueshirts with whom he played. The cross-pollination has brought Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, J.T. Miller and Anton Stralman, who is currently injured, back into his room. Five current Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Jesper Fast — skated with Callahan in New York.
McDonagh and Miller, of course, came in last year’s deadline purge. Girardi signed a two-year deal as a free agent in the summer of 2017 after the Rangers bought him out. Stralman signed as a free agent in 2014 after the Rangers foolishly chose to sign Dan Boyle rather than keep the Swedish right defenseman who had been an integral part of the group that went to the final.
“There’s an incredible amount of skill here, and I’ve known that from Day 1,” said Callahan. “[McDonagh] and J.T. have fit in perfectly with the group. You know how comfortable Mac was with the transition just from him signing that deal [seven years at an average cap hit of $6.75 million] over the summer.
“You know how he plays. Works hard, sacrifices for the team. That’s who he is. And J.T. has a lot of the same qualities.”
Callahan has recorded seven points (three goals, four assists) in 27 games while averaging 12:07 of ice time primarily in a fourth-line and penalty-killing role. Most importantly, Callahan is healthy after three seasons of hip and shoulder issues that limited him and his playing time.
“I have a clear head. I don’t worry about playing my game,” he said. “I just want to play and be able to do what I do.”
Callahan left a legacy of hard work, accountability and leadership behind in New York. Chris Kreider, after being called out in practice by David Quinn a couple of weeks ago, said it could serve as an example to young players, just as it served as an example to him when John Tortorella would call out Callahan.
“When I became captain, Torts told me that he was going to be hardest on me during practices, in the video room, wherever, because that’s how he was going to show that everyone was accountable,” Callahan said. “He told me that was part of the job. I appreciated that.
“You realize that part of your role as a leader is to accept criticism in a positive manner. You know when it’s happening that it’s making an impression on the young guys. I’m glad to know that Kreids understands that.”
But probably not as glad as he is to still be a Lightning Bolt.
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