Oh Captain, No Longer My Captain

cat tacopinaToday, one member of our staff made a point that’s resonated with me hours later.

“I’m pretty sure hockey is the only sport where it’s not unheard of to trade your captain.”

Several hours before the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline, the rumor that’s gotten the most traffic within the New York Rangers fan base became reality. After former NFL Quarterback and sports radio personality Boomer Esiason leaked the news of a “big” trade this past month, the Rangers traded homegrown Captain Ryan Callahan for veteran superstar forward Martin St. Louis. The Tampa Bay Lightning are getting a couple of draft picks to go along with the now-former Rangers Captain, but that isn’t going to be important until later on.

Before discussion begins on whether or not the Rangers will benefit from this deal, it would be unfair and, frankly, disrespectful to not offer respect and gratitude to Callahan.

As some of you may know from reading my column in the past, I’m a believer in building a team over buying one. True, it’s difficult to do that with a sport that has a salary cap, but it’s still a tactic used in the NHL. You can be a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins who endure maybe five to eight years of abysmal hockey and then are able to grab the first and second pick in the draft four years in a row and thus get superstars who are easy to build a team around.

Or you can be a team like the Detroit Red Wings, who have an established style and way of playing hockey and then draft, grow and cultivate players who are going to fit that system. The Red Wings may not have been the most fearsome team in the league these past couple of seasons, but they have always made the playoffs and they have always been contenders.

General Manager Glen Sather has subscribed to this latter model in the past decade and it would be amiss to say he didn’t still. It’s a model which, for the most part, has worked. One of the success stories to come from this model is none other than Callahan.

When he was drafted, Callahan was a small, scrawny player who many scouts had written off as non-NHL material. Sure, his character as a player and an athlete has helped him succeed, but he was also a testament to the success of the organization’s scouting system, minor league teams and development within the first year. Callahan personified the player New York fans clamor for. Maybe everyone else believes the desired player is a glamorous prodigy with a flair for the dramatic, but that’s a giant misconception. What we really want is the player who sacrifices themselves for the team; the sports cliché “play for the name on the front rather than the one on the back” is valued nowhere more than in New York.

What I’m trying to say is, Callahan has been nothing short of a role model for all athletes in New York. Not the most pure goalscorer to put on the Rangers sweater, but certainly one of the most passionate. I’d go as far to say he’s been the captain who has loved the Rangers most since Messier.

But this happened solely for business reasons, just like Esiason said. Callahan wanted at least $6 million a year and a grity third line grinder who could net 15 goals per season is not worth that kind of money.

It’s always sad to see homegrown players leave, but this is a business, and had the Rangers resigned Callahan for that kind of money, they’d definitely regret it down the line.

St. Louis may be old, but he still has goals and assists left in him. He’s wanted to be a Ranger for several years now, and I think the team could use someone who has wanted to play for this team for this long; it might remind some players just how lucky they are to play for a big market team in one of the most well-known and respected cities in the world.

This trade hurts, but it is smart and it was inevitable. It’s doubtful that St. Louis is the answer to the Rangers’ Stanley Cup hunt, but it could be a lead onto something.

Hopefully, anyway.