Lightning Can Live Without Ryan Callahan for Now

We’ve been here before. Per Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, general manager Steve Yzerman announced Friday that the Tampa Bay Lightning would be without veteran Ryan Callahan indefinitely. Callahan suffered an upper-body injury in Thursday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes and is pending a re-evaluation in three to four weeks. Callahan had one goal and five assists in 29 games, prior to the injury.

The injury occurred when Callahan got tied up with Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson while chasing the puck in the offensive zone. This lead to both players crashing hard into the boards and Callahan getting the worst of it. This is the second straight season where Callahan has suffered a long-term injury. Per Joe Smith, captain Steven Stamkos had this to say about it: “I’m sick to my stomach to watch a guy work as hard as he did to come back, play so well and to have something like that.” The 32-year-old suffered a nagging hip injury that kept him out for all but 18 games last season.

Losing a veteran leader such as Callahan, who brings a strong presence on the ice, will have some effect on the Lightning; however, the Lightning put themselves in a position where they can manage without Callahan for an extended period of time.

Replacing Callahan on the Penalty Kill

The biggest hurdle the Lightning will deal with is finding someone to replace Callahan on the penalty kill. The New York Rangers’ fourth-round pick from 2004 is an important piece of the Lightning’s penalty kill, which currently ranks in the top-10 of the league. Callahan blocks shots fearlessly and isn’t afraid to get physical.

Lightning forward Ryan Callahan
Lightning will need to replace Ryan Callahan’s minutes on the penalty kill.

The Lightning are a deep team and have multiple players who can step in to take Callahan’s minutes on the PK. Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point have stood out as the team’s top penalty killers this season. Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat have also alternated killing penalties. With Callahan missing time, these players should see more ice-time when the Lightning are down a man. Though none have similar traits to Callahan’s game, the Lightning have a reliable group of penalty killers nonetheless. The 32-year-old’s absence shouldn’t greatly affect the team’s numbers in this category.

Lightning Have Plenty of Forward Options

The Lightning are one of the deepest teams in the NHL and can consider multiple options to replace Callahan’s spot. Head coach Jon Cooper has often started games with 11 forwards and seven defensemen this season and can also look to bring J.T. Brown into the lineup on some nights. Callahan averages 12 minutes of ice-time, so whoever draws in as his replacement won’t be needed to make up for a ton of minutes.

J.T. Brown Tampa Bay Lightning forward
J.T. Brown could see more action with the absence of Ryan Callahan. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Lightning may also decide to make a call-up from their AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch. Cory Conacher has been playing well since being recalled from Syracuse on Nov. 24. With the Crunch playing great hockey lately, the Lightning may decide to give one of their players a call. The current front-runner is likely Adam Erne, who gained 26 games of NHL experience last season with the Lightning. The 22-year-old is second in scoring on the Crunch with 19 points in 27 games. Erne brings a physical presence similar to Callahan, which makes him the most likely to get called up.

Lightning Must Keep Callahan Healthy for Playoffs

Currently first place in the NHL, the Lightning are in good position to make the playoffs. Experienced veterans such as Callahan play a huge part in the team’s success during the playoffs – with over 100 playoff games of experience, the 32-year-old has been there and done that. Though his scoring numbers aren’t what makes him a vital playoff guy, Callahan’s leadership and physical play are most important to the Lightning come playoff time.

Ryan Callahan Tampa Bay Lightning
Ryan Callahan (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Lightning are hopeful that this is as bad as it gets for Callahan. After horrible luck trying to come back from a hip injury last season, Callahan needs to make sure he comes back feeling 100% healthy. If needed, the 32-year-old could take some more time to recover and still have plenty of action remaining in the season. Right now, the Lightning need to think more about Callahan’s long-term health rather than getting him back as quick as possible.