When the puck dropped to kick off the 2019-20 NHL season, Ryan Callahan was far removed from the rink. For the first time since 2006, the gritty right winger was not lacing up his skates and pulling a jersey on over his head.
In late June, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced Callahan, 34, was diagnosed with a career-ending degenerative back disease. While he is technically on long-term injured reserve with the Ottawa Senators, the former New York Rangers captain has shifted his career from the bright lights he once patrolled on Broadway to the ones in a television studio.
Staying close to the game, Callahan is starting a new chapter and joining NHL Network as a studio analyst, making his official debut on Wed., Oct. 16 at 9:30 p.m. ET on NHL Tonight. He'll bring a wealth of experience that includes 386 career points, 757 NHL games and a couple of deep playoff runs to viewers. Always one for insightful and well-thought-out responses when speaking to reporters, the four-time winner of the Rangers' Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award is looking forward to the opportunity to bring fans closer to the game.
Sporting News caught up with the Rochester, N.Y., native as he gets ready to take his seat in front of the cameras of NHL Network.
(Editor's note: The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Sporting News: What brought you to this decision to go into the broadcasting side of hockey?
Ryan Callahan: Two or three years ago, the World Cup was going on. I was injured and unfortunately unable to play and the NHL reached out to me and asked if I wanted to come down for the day and do some NHL Network stuff on the World Cup. And I went down and did it, really not expecting to like it . . . and I ended up really enjoying myself being on-air and just talking hockey, sharing my knowledge of what I know and getting inside the game that the average fan doesn't see or doesn't realize.
After that, it's always kind of been in the back of my head the last couple of years that whenever the time came that I was done playing that'd be something I'd be interested in doing. Then, obviously, with my back situation and being hurt this year and not being able to play, the NHL reached out to me again and offered me to do this this year. I wish I was still on the ice but it was a great opportunity for me to jump into it.
SN: You're used to seeing the game on the ice and now you'll be sitting in front of a bank of televisions. Does that change your perspective breaking down the game?
RC: I guess there's not a huge difference just because I think I'm still going to be looking at the game the way I approached it when I played and seeing the little things about the game whether it's different plays, individual players — what they're doing — little tendencies that you know from playing against a player. But obviously, it'll be a little bit of a difference there.
I think the biggest thing for me is just trying to separate myself from the teams that I played [for], the players that I know and just analyzing the game as a whole and individuals without all those friendships that I've established throughout the year's and sit back and try to analyze them as players.
SN: Are you going to be able to be critical of guys then? Does it make it harder because you know players so well?
RC: [laughing] It does a little bit I think but at the same time I think there's a way to go about being critical. It's not just necessarily about being critical of somebody or digging at the way someone is playing. There's a right way to going about that. There's a right way to deliver that where you're not being disrespectful to the player or the way he plays but you're doing it in a productive way. I've gotta find that line and where that line is and hopefully I do a good job of that.
SN: And you actually had one of your former teammates with you on NHL Tonight. How's that going to be, working with Kevin Weekes?
RC: Weekesy, I know him more as an analyst, as a reporter than as a player. I got a chance to play with him but I was up and down that first year with New York so it was about a half a year that I got the chance to play with him.
I think it's good. He's unbelievable at what he does on the NHL Network and on TV and delivers such a good message and the way he delivers it is awesome. So, I'm sure he'll help me along with it as I get my feet wet. But, I think it's good being on-air with guys like that, that we both have knowledge of the game, we've both been through situations that the players are going through currently — whether that be in-game situations or in the season situations. I think it'll be fun to share our knowledge and to go back and forth and deliver to the fans maybe something that they don't know.
SN: With this role, you could be watching as many as eight games at a time and need to know what's going on in each one. Have you thought about how that will work?
RC: I did a little bit of that with the World Cup going on, while the games were going on we watched a couple of the games. Obviously, volume-wise probably wasn't the same. It was, at most, three games going on at the same time for the World Cup. So I experienced that a little bit. But I think it just goes back to me being as a player and knowing the game so well. I don't have to sit there and stare at one game and concentrate on one game. You kind of have to get a sense of what's going on in each game as you're watching them and the tendencies of the game and going from there. I won't know until sitting in front of the TVs and experiencing it but the knowledge I bring into the position I think will hopefully let me succeed with it.
SN: Was it weird when the puck dropped on game one of the season this year and you weren't out there?
RC: It was tough. It definitely was. I think a couple of times it's hit me that I'm not playing — one being the start of training camp. You're so excited, you're training all summer for the best start. Obviously, I wasn't training the way I normally do but still, you see all the guys get to training camp, you hear the news of it starting and then the hardest part I think was, as you said Game 1. You see the puck drop and such an exciting time for a new year and to get things going and to know you're not being a part of it, it's a tough pill to swallow. But luckily I'm enjoying time with my family right now. I've got three kids and staying busy obviously with them so I don't really have much time to sit around and think about it too much.
SN: What's your analysis of the season so far? Any surprises?
RC: I think for me one of the bigger surprises, just because I didn't know how they would respond after last year is Carolina. How well they're doing this year. They kind of picked up right where they let off and I didn't know if it was a flash in the pan or it was the real deal last year. Obviously, making it into the Conference Finals is huge but I was interested to see if they could continue that into this year. Losing a guy like [Justin] Faulk, obviously a huge leader in Justin Williams' being gone but they haven't missed a beat. If anything it looks like they've gotten a little bit better. I've been really intrigued by them, in a division too where I think Washington is on the top of that division. But there's no reason why they can't compete one or two in that division. Maybe Washington is their biggest competition right now and I'm interested to see how they do throughout the year.