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Tampa Bay Lightning 2018-2019 player grades: Ryan Callahan embraced a new role

We may have seen the last of Cally in Tampa.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Columbus Blue Jackets - Game Four Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning season is over. With a long summer ahead of us, we’re going to hand out grades to each player on the roster. You did your part submitting your grades via the reader survey, and they are presented along with our writers’ grades. All told, about 360 of you submitted grades, which is less than last season, but that’s understandable considering how the season went. Follow along with the series through the month of May and share your thoughts in the comments.

We’re going to start the grading with Ryan Callahan. He moved into a new role this season, becoming the thirteenth forward and only playing sparingly over the second half of the season. He started the year on the fourth line but saw his ice time disappear as both Mathieu Joseph and Adam Erne played well enough to force their way into the lineup.

Injuries, lackluster performances, and a poorly-timed suspension gave Callahan an opportunity to to play more games down the stretch than the team might have anticipated. He regularly found himself drawing back into his old role on the fourth line and the penalty kill.

He’s always been known as a positive voice in the locker room and a strong leader. He showed that again this season as he embraced his new usage and didn’t do anything to upset a team that was on an unreal run during the regular season.

His performance earned him middling grades from both the readers and the writers here at Raw Charge. The following card shows Callahan’s grades, as well as some high level stats for his season. Wins Above Replacement and the expected goal impacts come from Evolving Hockey. The xG impacts include all situations.

In total, the community gave him a C+. Readers were a little higher on him than the writers, but not by much. He got a wide variety of grades, including a healthy number in the B range from readers, which was understandable considering how willing he was to do what was best for the team.

The thing I find most interesting about Callahan’s season is that the minimized role seemed to get the best out of him. Looking at his WAR and xG impacts, he looks like an average NHL forward: solid on defense but not contributing much offensively. That might not seem like much, but that’s a big improvement compared to how he performed in recent seasons.

In limited minutes this year, he was more than capable of filling a defensive role on the fourth line or even stepping up to the third line in a pinch if needed. That’s not what I would have expected after last season where he struggled to stay above water even on the fourth line.

I interpret that to mean he’s probably no longer going to be a positive every day contributor for a good team at this point in his career. But, in a fill-in role, he can still do his part and play a simple game that limits the other team’s offense.

The problem for the Lightning, of course, is that he makes $5.8 million per season. That’s not an amount of money a team tight to the cap can afford to pay for a reliable thirteenth forward. Therein lies the challenge for General Manager Julien Brisebois and Callahan heading into this offseason.

The veteran forward has one more season on his contract. Him fulfilling the final year of that deal with the Lightning seems unlikely. Tampa has players looking to take that roster spot next season with Taylor Raddysh, Alex Volkov, and Boris Katchkouk all likely to push to make the team in the fall. Volkov almost did so last year. A new contract for Brayden Point and the need to remake the bottom half of the blue line will put pressure on the front office to free the cap space tied up in Callahan’s contract.

That likely means the team will look to trade him in the offseason or, if they can’t make a trade work, buy him out. A buyout would save the team $3.1 million this season, but would push $1.5 million on to next season’s cap. That’s not ideal. Expect the front office to look to move the contract in a trade using an additional asset like a 2nd round pick or a mid-level prospect.

On the ice, Callahan did his part this season. He played the role the team asked of him and became a different type of player than he’s been for most of his career. That’s commendable. When he got in the lineup, he played well. But the reality of the business side of things could mean that we’ve seen the last of Ryan Callahan in a Lightning jersey.

For all the consternation over his contract—and it was a bad one—he’s been an important part of one of the best teams in the league during his time in Tampa. According to everyone close to the organization, he’s been a leader and an important voice in establishing expectations for how the team plays. He did everything in his power to help the team win and, for that, he should be celebrated.

But like most players, his career probably won’t end gracefully. If he stays in Tampa, he’ll see much less ice time next season. He would enter the year as the thirteenth forward, and might even be lower than that depending on how things go in camp. If he moves to a new team, he might get more playing time, but that won’t necessarily be a good thing. His days as an every night contributor are probably past, and if a team acquires him and plays him that way, his production will probably suffer and the risk of injury would increase.

Callahan will be one of the most important pieces this offseason for the Lightning. How they handle his contract will determine what else they’re able to do. He’s given everything he can for the team over the last few years. The only thing left to be seen is where he plays the final season of this contract.