Ryan Callahan figured he would visit a specialist and learn how to fix the back issues that plagued him last season.
Instead, two doctor visits brought the diagnosis of degenerative disk disease and the end of his playing career. Once Callahan came to grips with that development, he decided he would like to go into management or broadcasting.
There was one problem: Callahan had one year left on his contract and can’t work for a team until it expires next summer. So the 34-year-old signed on to be an NHL Network analyst this season, quite possibly creating a road map for other players to follow if injuries cut their on-ice careers short.
“Just to stay busy and stay in the game is the biggest thing,” Callahan said. “To go from 100 to 0 just like that, it would be tough to do mentally. So, for Ottawa to give me permission to do this, I’m thankful for that and thankful for the NHL for wanting me to do it, as well.”
Callahan played a combined 878 regular-season and playoff games with the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, but had his contract traded to the Ottawa Senators for salary-cap reasons. It’s similar to situations with injured players Chris Pronger, David Clarkson, Marc Savard, Mikhail Grabovski, Ryane Clowe and Dave Bolland, whose contracts were moved around the league after they hung up their skates for good.
When he steps on set for the first time on Oct. 16, Callahan figures to have a harder time compartmentalizing what’s going on with the Lightning than his new “teammates” in Ottawa.
“I don’t know anybody in (the Senators) organization; I’ve never played for that team,” Callahan said. “I think what’ll be more weird is analyzing Tampa Bay’s games just because I know that organization so well and I’m good friends with a lot of the players on the team still.”
Callahan chose to stay in hockey without ruffling any feathers. It hasn’t always been so simple for players whose careers are cut short by injury but move on quickly to other jobs.
The NHL took some criticism for hiring Pronger in the department of player safety in 2014 with three years remaining on his contract, and the menacing defenceman was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame before it was over. Pronger joined the hockey operations staff for the Florida Panthers once he was no longer under contract.
Savard moved into coaching this year as an assistant with the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. Clowe spent two seasons as a New Jersey Devils assistant and had a short stint as an ECHL coach, and Clarkson is coaching a high school team.
Coaching is not in Callahan’s plans, which made broadcasting the logical step.
“I didn’t like that side of the game,” he said. “It was more behind the scenes things that I wanted to learn more of. Obviously I’ve never done it before. I don’t know if I would enjoy it or not enjoy it, but it’s something that I wanted to learn more of. Being under contract with Ottawa still on long-term (injured reserve), that didn’t give me an opportunity to do that with a team because I’m under contract with Ottawa, so the timing of NHL Network was perfect.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press