Unsurprisingly, the 2014 NHL trade deadline came and went without the Sharks making a move. They were hard-pressed against the salary cap's upper limit and GM Doug Wilson is on record saying he likes the makeup of his current team (as he should, seeing as they're currently second in a competitive division) so the fact that the Sharks were one of three teams not to be involved in a transaction yesterday or today should have been foreseeable.
What came as something of a surprise is this:
So there's this: told that the San Jose Sharks went pretty far down the road on Ryan Callahan deal with NYR...— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) March 5, 2014
Pierre LeBrun is one of a handful of reporters with a track record of having insight into the Sharks organization's dealings so I'd be pretty confident this is accurate information. Doug Wilson has a reputation for kicking tires on a wide variety of players (remember the Vincent Lecavalier rumors from last summer?) but, from the sound of LeBrun's report, it seems like these discussions went a whole lot farther than that before Ryan Callahan was eventually dealt to Tampa Bay for Martin St. Louis and three draft picks. Depending on the proposed return, which we obviously can't know for sure, I think the Sharks dodged a significant bullet here.
Callahan is one of those players who will always be overrated and overvalued in NHL circles because he brings grit, leadership, character and other all-important intangibles; he (allegedly) "does the little things that help you win" and "makes an impact that isn't visible on the scoresheet." I'm not saying none of those things matter or even that they're inaccurate descriptors of the hard-nosed, 5'11" right winger's game. But when you're giving up something tangible (draft picks, prospects, roster players, cap space, dollars) I think you had better get something tangible in return. And when it comes to providing tangible value, I'm not sold Callahan comes anywhere near matching the hype.
Consider this: of the 19 skaters who have played at least 20 five-on-five minutes alongside Callahan this season, 16 have a higher Corsi% (meaning the Rangers have done better at controlling play) away from him than with him. That's despite the fact that New York head coach Alain Vigneault has started Callahan in the offensive zone on a whopping 60.7% of his non-neutral 5v5 shifts. This year is far from an anomaly, either; there hasn't been a single season since 2008-09 in which the Rangers have had better territorial results at even-strength with Callahan on the ice than off and, despite his reputation as a defensive warrior, only in 2010-11 did he actually play difficult minutes.
But the Sharks are already the league's third-best possession team while they only rank 9th in five-on-five offense so, even though Callahan isn't a play-driver, it could still make sense to acquire him if he can help boost the latter ranking and make the Sharks a more dangerous offensive threat at even-strength in the playoffs. Spoiler alert: he can't. From 2009-2013, among the 349 forwards who played at least 1500 five-on-five minutes, Callahan ranked 259th in goals per minute, behind such offensive luminaries as Cody McLeod, Matt Hendricks and Paul Gaustad. He's been slightly better so far this season (thanks entirely to an elevated shooting percentage—his shot rate is actually the lowest it's been in his entire career) but still ranks behind every Shark forward with at least 100 minutes of five-on-five ice time except James Sheppard, Tyler Kennedy and Mike Brown. Yes, even Marty Havlat has scored at a higher rate five-on-five this season than Ryan Callahan.
The one area Callahan actually provides value, and the reason he has a few twenty-goal seasons under his belt, is the power play where he's a very efficient scorer but, realistically, wouldn't have been able to unseat Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau or Logan Couture on the Sharks' top unit (he can't even get top-unit PP time on the Rangers this season, where he ranks 9th among forwards in power play ice time per game). So what San Jose would have essentially been trading for is a player who can hardly score at even-strength and doesn't drive possession (and, at this stage of his career, may even be a substantial drag on his teammates in this department) but could perhaps pot a couple of goals on an otherwise-dormant second power play unit. That isn't useless but I don't think it's worth more than, say, a 3rd round pick at tops. Even though this was a buyers' market, I'm fairly certain the Rangers wanted a lot more than a 3rd for their captain.
So good on Wilson for dodging a bullet here (or, alternately, thanks to Martin St. Louis for his trade demand that focused the Rangers' interest elsewhere) but I'm not sure why he was interested to begin with. Ultimately, some of the best moves a GM makes are the moves he doesn't make and I think not giving up significant assets for Callahan today qualifies in that category. Especially since acquiring the impending UFA may have increased the odds of San Jose giving into his ludicrous contract demands. In a lot of ways, Callahan looks poised to be this summer's David Clarkson so it's a good thing the Sharks didn't bite.