The Tampa Bay Lightning have announced that Ryan Callahan had a follow up procedure on his right hip and is out indefinitely. He previously had surgery on the same hip after the 2015-16 playoffs. He has played in 18 games this season with two goals and two assists.
This is a mix of good news and bad news. The bad news is that it means Callahan will not be available for the rest of the season. You can argue the good and bad of that, but without Callahan, you lose a leader in the locker room and one of the best penalty killers on the team. You also have to wonder if he’ll ever be back on the ice after having a second surgery on his hip in less than a year.
The good news has two different angles. The good is that hopefully he’ll be back next season and be a productive member of the team. By getting this procedure done now, he’ll have a chance to be fully recovered prior to the start of training camp. He should be able to get in a good offseason training program as well. It’s possible that he rushed back too quickly from the previous hip surgery, and a lack of a proper offseason training regimen may have contributed to his re-injuring the hip.
The other side of the good news is that it gives general manager Steve Yzerman a lot more flexibility at the trade deadline. At the beginning of February, I wrote that it would be good for the Lightning to shut Callahan down for the season. Now it’s happened, and the Lightning can benefit from it.
The team has benefited from Steven Stamkos being on Long Term Injured Reserve after having surgery on his knee. It’s allowed the team to exceed the salary cap while dealing with the large number of injuries it has endured through the season. But the big problem was that if Yzerman wanted to make a trade at the deadline, he’d need to make a corresponding move to get rid of salary. Once Stamkos is ready to come back, the Lightning would need to be salary cap compliant. That would have been harder to do after the trade deadline.
With Callahan out for the rest of the year, he can be placed on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) when Stamkos returns. The front office should be able to manipulate the cap enough with players that don’t require waivers to get maximum value out of it. That means that the Lightning could add up to around $5.5-$5.8 million in salary cap hit at the deadline.
It’s still unclear whether the Lightning will be buyers or sellers at the deadline. The team is on a 5-0-2 point streak, but has only picked up a few points on the second wild card spot. They have managed to jump a couple of teams, though, and their path to the wild card has become just a little bit easier. They are still left in no man’s land, four points behind the wild card, and four teams ahead of them — close enough to have hope and far enough away to have doubt.
If Yzerman is indeed a buyer, what could he do at the deadline? Sami Vatanen in Anaheim still looks like an attractive option to give the team some defensive help. Even if the team misses the playoffs, it would be a deal that will be of help in the short term as well as the long term. Yzerman would still be left with a lot of work in the summer to deal with the salary cap, but acquiring defensive help is likely a task that needs to be done whether it happens in the next week or over the summer.