Even with all the relative bargains they’ve signed over the last few seasons, the Tampa Bay Lightning will be facing a cap crunch again this summer. The team already has more than $74MM committed in 2019-20 contracts according to CapFriendly, and has a huge negotiation coming up with restricted free agent Brayden Point. Knowing that, GM Julien BriseBois will likely have to make some room by trading away at least one of their highly paid forwards, and Ryan Callahan is the obvious choice given his declining production. That’s no secret to the veteran forward, who told Joe Smith of The Athletic (subscription required) as much:
Obviously there’s a salary cap crunch, and it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out right now I’m on the outside looking in. Whatever happens, happens. But I was really happy with how I finished the year.
Callahan, 34, has been limited by injuries over the last three seasons and recorded just 17 points in 52 games this year. The former New York Rangers forward is still an effective defensive player and brings a ton of leadership, but his $5.8MM price tag is just too expensive for the kind of production he brings. Smith and his colleagues from The Athletic examine five teams that could be potential destinations for Callahan this summer, though it is not yet clear who will be on his 15-team trade list of places the team could send him without his consent.
A trade is not the only way the Lightning could get out from under Callahan’s deal, as a buyout would save them more than $3.1MM this season. The downside to a buyout would be the $1.57MM cap hit incurred for the 2020-21 season, but it would also mean the team doesn’t have to give up an asset to ship him somewhere. Theoretically the team could actually pull off a similar transaction as the one that Brooks Orpik went through last summer, when the Washington Capitals sent him to the Colorado Avalanche for a buyout before re-signing him at a lower price.
If it is the end for Callahan in Tampa Bay, his time there will likely still be seen positively despite the lack of production over the last few seasons. He was a big part of the team when they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, and has never been accused of giving anything but his full effort when on the ice.