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Ryan Callahan diagnosed with degenerative back disease, advised to no longer play hockey

This isn’t the way we wanted to see him leave hockey.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning today announced that Ryan Callahan has been diagnosed with a degenerative back disease. It also appears that this will end his career; it has been recommended that he no longer play professional hockey. Callahan will be placed on Long Term Injured Reserve for next season to give the Lightning salary cap relief due to his injury. He also gave an interview to Bryan Burns of talking about the issue.

While it has been clear that his time with the Lightning was coming to an end, this is definitely not the way you’d like to see a player like Callahan end his career. The definition of a heart and soul player, he was a huge voice and leader within the locker room. Even though injuries and age had started to catch up to him, he still provided great value even with his contributions on the ice diminishing.

Callahan joined the Lightning at the 2014 trade deadline in a deal with the New York Rangers for Martin St. Louis. Before he reached unrestricted free agency, Callahan signed a six year contract extension with the Lightning carrying a $5.8 million cap hit. Even then, we had concerns about how his health would hold up over the term of the deal. In his first full season with the Lightning he was a very productive player playing on Steven Stamkos’ wing and on the power play putting up 24 goals and 54 points.

That would be the high point of his Lightning career. He finished the 2015-16 season with ten goals and 28 points. His 2016-17 season was cut short by hip injuries and he only managed four points in 18 games. The past two seasons, Callahan has been relatively healthy, playing in 67 and 52 games with 18 and 17 points respectively. He spent much of the latter part of this past season a healthy scratch after the coaching staff informed him he would be the 13th forward after the All-Star break.

The Lightning were reported to be shopping Callahan prior to this news. He had a 15-team list of teams he could be traded to. The Lightning possibly would have had to give up an asset to move the last year of his contract as $5.8 million is more in line with a top six winger than it is a fourth liner. Barring a trade, the Lightning would have had the option of buying him out by June 30th leaving part of his salary cap hit on the team’s books for the next two seasons.

From a salary cap stand point, this is one of the better outcomes for the Lightning. Long Term Injured Reserve is a bit of a tricky subject to explain in layman’s terms as the implications of it are actually a bit complex. However, with him being out the whole season, the Lightning will be able to exceed the salary cap by the amount of his salary cap hit. The Lightning will still be on the hook for his $4.7 million in actual salary left to him.

Callahan has been a bit of a controversial figure among Lightning fans for the past few years due to his salary cap and his diminished offensive output. However, there was a large section of the fan base that passionately loved him. He was a competitor who left it all on the ice. He was willing to sacrifice his body. He had to sustain a lick from Brad Marchand in the most literal sense. He was a heart and soul player. A leader. Everything you could ask for from a player from an intangibles perspective.

It also appears that Callahan will continue to live in Tampa during the season. I don’t blame him as it is a great place to live and for his kids to continue to grow up. I also hope to see him continue his great work with the Ryan Callahan Foundation.

Cally... It’s hard to see you leave hockey this way. It really is. We know that for every hockey player, they want to go out on their own terms. Having your career end due to an injury or a disease just doesn’t feel right. Especially because of how hard you fought to be on the ice these past few seasons. Your charitable acts were and continue to be appreciated. Thank you for everything you have done, not just for the Lightning, but for the fans and the people of Tampa Bay. You’re an incredible person and we wish you all the best as you begin the next chapter of your life. We know that you’ll be a success in whatever you decide to pursue next.