Hartnett: Ryan Callahan's retirement brings Rangers' vacant captaincy back into light

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Former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan announced his retirement on Wednesday, closing the book on a 13-year career. Every time Callahan laced up his skates, there was no question that he’d pour heart, soul, and body into each shift.

Perhaps, too much importance is placed on which player wears the captain’s ‘C.’ Any player – young or old, with or without a letter stitched on the front of their jersey – is capable of leading and delivering the kind of impact that can change games.

Yet, Callahan’s inspiration and influence was clear. He didn’t need a ‘C’ on his uniform to dial up the intensity to 100 and play with the fervor that rallied teammates to give their all for the cause.

“Ryan Callahan embodies all the leadership qualities we seek from our captain,” former Rangers general manager Glen Sather said in Sept. 2011. “He leads by example with courage and a tireless work ethic on and off the ice, which is why he is so deserving of this honor.”

The 5-foot-10 right wing followed Chris Drury as captain ahead of the 2011-12 season. It’s easy to forget that there was a lot more to Callahan’s game than industrious, all-out effort and a willingness to sacrifice the body.

He finished one goal shy of 30 during the 2011-12 season, and offered production between 0.69 and 0.80 points per game during a three-year spell between 2010-11 and 2012-13. Callahan’s two-way ability landed him in the Top 10 in the Selke Trophy voting (best defensive forward) on three occasions.

“I think sometimes people think he's just a shot-blocker and a guy who can bang along the boards and forecheck and finish checks,” former Rangers head coach John Tortorella said in Feb. 2012. “I think Cally has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder that everybody thinks he's a one-dimensional guy. He isn't. As he keeps growing as a player, he's certainly showing that.”

Callahan served as captain until a Mar. 2014 trade shipped him to the Tampa Bay Lightning, in a deal that brought Martin St. Louis to Madison Square Garden.
After a brief vacancy, Ryan McDonagh assumed the captaincy from 2014-18 until he too was traded to the Lightning on Feb. 26, 2018.

Since that date, the rebuilding Rangers haven’t installed a permanent captain. The present day Rangers are guided by a head coach in David Quinn who is a keen advocate of hard-skating efforts and wholehearted commitment to the cause.

“We want to be in the opposition's faces and make them uncomfortable every shift,” Quinn stated in a May 2018 letter to fans. “We want them to know when they see the Rangers on the schedule, it's going to be a long night.”

A young, fearless Callahan would have fit right in with Quinn’s bunch. Perhaps, the time has come for Quinn to identify which current Ranger best personifies his on-ice ideals and off-ice culture. It’s been a long wait and fans are eager to see if Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Jacob Trouba, Artemi Panarin, or someone else is best suited to inherit the captaincy.

Follow Sean Hartnett on Twitter: @HartnettHockey

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