Rumor Roundup: Ball back in Callahan’s court

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images Sport)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images Sport)

The New York Rangers’ contract negotiations with captain Ryan Callahan took an interesting turn over the weekend. Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports GM Glen Sather allowed “multiple clubs” the opportunity to contact Steve Bartlett, Callahan’s agent, to discuss a contract extension if they acquired him via trade.

The New York Daily News’ Pat Leonard reports that was news to Callahan, who insists his priority is to remain a Ranger. Brooks, meanwhile, claims Sather wants Callahan’s situation resolved before the NHL Olympic roster freeze kicks in at 3 p.m. EST Feb. 7. The Blueshirts’ captain reportedly seeks a seven-year, $42-million contract while Sather prefers a five-year, $30-million deal.

It’s believed the St. Louis Blues are interested in Callahan and Brooks cites sources claiming the Rangers have interest in Blues right winger Chris Stewart. The 26-year-old Stewart is a streaky scorer who enters this week with only four points since December 28. Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports neither Blues GM Doug Armstrong or coach Ken Hitchcock would comment on the rumor. Such a swap would provide a boost to the Blues’ Stanley Cup hopes, though it remains to be seen if they could afford to re-sign Callahan.

Some pundits believe this is merely a negotiating tactic by Sather. If other interested clubs are unwilling to meet Callahan’s contract demands, it could force the 28-year-old right winger to accept a shorter term with the Rangers.

Appearing on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos claimed a Western Conference club contacted Bartlett but balked at his asking price. ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun reports two Western Conference executives believe Sather’s intent is to re-sign Callahan and is giving himself a “Plan B” by allowing other clubs to speak with Bartlett.

The Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets were also rumored to be interested in Callahan. But the John Vogl of the Buffalo News reports the Sabres have not contacted the Rangers while Michael Arace of The Columbus Dispatch reports Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen dismissed the stories as rumors.

The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa compares Callahan to former Rangers center Chris Drury, whose career was cut short by injuries before he completed the lengthy contract he signed with the Blueshirts as a free agent. Sather undoubtedly prefers avoiding history repeating itself with Callahan.

With the Olympics roster freeze fast approaching, Callahan’s fate appears to be in his hands. Term remains the sticking point. If Callahan is unwilling to accept a shorter contract, he could be playing elsewhere by Friday at the earliest or the March 5 trade deadline at the latest.

TO REBUILD OR TO RETOOL?
The Vancouver Canucks enter February barely clinging to the final wild card berth in the Western Conference. Their 4-9-2 record throughout January prompted several pundits to suggest GM Mike Gillis consider rebuilding the roster.

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector believes Gillis should move a few of his core veteran players. He acknowledged the difficulty in doing so as many of them have expensive contracts with no-trade clauses. The Toronto Star’s Damien Cox believes Gillis should conduct a partial rebuild similar to that of the San Jose Sharks’ last season.

Speaking on TSN, LeBrun reports if Gillis makes moves it won’t be for playoff rental players. LeBrun expects defenseman Alexander Edler to attract some interest following the Olympic break. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports Gillis wants to add a third-line center but is waiting to see if his club’s performance improves before the trade deadline.

Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province believes getting decent returns for any of the Canucks’ core players won’t be easy. The Sedins, Edler and Alexandre Burrows are slumping. Botchford doesn’t expect significant returns for Chris Higgins, Jason Garrison, Jannik Hansen or David Booth. Only Ryan Kesler could land a solid return, but moving him now could further weaken their offense.

Ten Canucks – the Sedins, Kesler, Burrows, Higgins, Edler, Garrison, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Roberto Luongo – possess no-trade or no-movement clauses in their contracts. All but Higgins are earning over $4.3-million per season. With half these players slumping, sidelined or playing hurt, it’s no wonder Botchford doubts most of them could fetch good returns before the March trade deadline.

Gillis is a patient man and could wait to see how his team performs over the remainder of the season before deciding if a full or partial rebuild is required. The best time to move any of his core veterans will be this summer, as the rising salary cap will make it easier for potentially interested teams to absorb those contracts. He could offer to pick up part of a contract but might prefer avoiding that option to leave sufficient cap space for other moves.

Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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