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Former Lightning wing Ryan Callahan kills it on NHL Network

Slap Shots: And we answer this week’s reader’s question: Why doesn’t Victor Hedman play more minutes, like other No. 1 defensemen?
Former Lightning wing Ryan Callahan's debut as an NHL Network analyst is drawing positive reviews. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 19
Updated Oct. 20

You could say Ryan Callahan made an immediate impression at the NHL Network. After working with the former Lightning forward once, NHL Tonight host Tony Luftman texted his boss Dave Patterson to thank him for hiring Callahan.

“I thought he was sensational,” Luftman said. “What totally blew me away was how smooth and confident he was.”

Typically it takes time for an athlete to transition from playing to being a media analyst, but Luftman said he has never seen someone do it as smoothly as Callahan. Most people lose some personality when the TV camera turns on them; Callahan didn’t.

MORE LIGHTNING: What does having a superstar line do for the rest of the team?

This comes as little surprise to those who interviewed Callahan regularly during his playing days. He was always personable and analytical in how he spoke about his team and the game.

The Lightning put Callahan, 34, on the long-term injury list in June after he was diagnosed with a career-ending back issue. In July they traded him to the Senators for goalie Mike Condon to get him off the list and create greater salary cap space.

To Callahan, the preparation for TV is the biggest difference from playing. He is used to sitting at his locker-room stall and answering other people’s questions. Now he’s studying teams and players in a way he didn’t as a player. “I kind of mastered the art of the vanilla answer, protecting myself or the team,” he said. “Now, I guess you can be more open about what you’re thinking, your thoughts, your feelings about players, teams.”

His ease with critiquing former teammates stood out to Luftman, who has seen players take a while to feel comfortable doing that as analyst.

Callahan had everyone laughing on NHL Tonight as he told a story about the Lightning’s 2015 Stanley Cup final loss to the Blackhawks. His daughter was born after Game 3, then Tampa Bay lost the next three games, so he called her his “good luck baby.”

UP NEXT: Lightning vs. Colorado, 7 p.m. Saturday | Amalie Arena | FOX Sports Sun

It probably helps that Callahan has been planning for this career for a while. He worked the 2016 World Cup broadcast when he was injured. After that, Callahan always figured he’d head to TV when he was done playing.

Callahan doesn’t have a set schedule for his NHL Network appearances. He still lives in Tampa and will fly to the network’s New Jersey studio about once a month to do three or four nights of shows. That way he doesn’t give up much family time.

Quick hits with Anthony Cirelli

Sorry, Tampa Bay, but Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) isn't very beachy. [FRED CHARTRAND | AP]

Most hated food as a child: Cirelli did not, and does not, like pickles. He doesn’t like the taste, doesn’t like the smell. If there’s a pickle on his plate, he might have to wipe the plate before eating a sandwich.

Last show binged: It was a slow binge, but Cirelli watched Breaking Bad over four months. He had tried the show before, after it was recommended to him, but he couldn’t get into it. This time he stuck with it.

MORE LIGHTNING: Keep up on all your Lightning news. Subscribe now using the promo code GOBOLTS to get three months of digital access for $14

Best kind of view: If Cirelli could pick a view outside his home, he’d go with a cityscape. He doesn’t really like the ocean and isn’t outdoorsy.

So, I was thinking ...

• If the Lightning are splitting up the defensive pair of Erik Cernak and Ryan McDonagh — which they had done in the two previous games before Saturday’s against the Avalanche — I’d like to see McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev together. Clearly there’s something coach Jon Cooper is still looking to see from Sergachev’s game. McDonagh may help instill different habits.

• The Kings have bigger issues than a banner. They will cover Taylor Swift’s Staples Center banner that commemorates the most sold-out performances at the arena because fans have complained. Fans view the banner as something of a curse because the Kings haven’t won a playoff series since it was raised in 2015. Listening to your fans is good. But maybe, just maybe, the banner isn’t the problem.

• I want to get on board with the Sabres, but I can’t. Too often, whether it’s the Sabres or the Bills, Buffalo will Buffalo. I can’t shake the feeling that the Sabres, who entered Saturday with the most points in the Eastern Conference, will do that this season, too. I’d love to be wrong.

Three-on-three

Alternate jerseys: 3. Bruins 2. Ducks 1. Sabres

Teams I can’t figure out: 3. Sabres 2. Oilers 1. Devils

Reasons to love fall road trips: 3. Wearing sweaters 2. Foliage 1. Chai lattes in crisp air

MORE LIGHTNING: Brad Marchand is part skill, part pest ... how perplexing

Questions for the Lightning

Why doesn’t Victor Hedman play more minutes, like other No. 1 defensemen?

The Lightning use Ryan McDonagh to complement Hedman and lessen his minutes. Hedman is the No. 1 defenseman, but McDonagh, though not paired with Hedman, is No. 2 and is leaned on heavily in defensive situations. Having two elite defensemen who can be counted on in different scenarios keeps each fresher. (This question comes from Michael Babnik. If you have a question you’d like answered, @ me!)

Where will Carter Verhaeghe fit when Cedric Paquette returns?

Verhaeghe likely becomes the 13th forward once Paquette comes back from the arm injury he suffered in the preseason finale. We haven’t seen Verhaeghe in any role but fourth-line center since Brayden Point made his season debut Oct. 10, and that spot is Paquette’s. Verhaeghe has not dazzled, and his ice time had declined bit by bit over the five games before Saturday’s against the Avalanche. Verhaeghe would have to clear waivers to be sent to AHL Syracuse, and I’d guess the Lightning don’t want to risk that right away. So he probably sits and perhaps plays now and again until he’s called on due to another injury. At 24, Verhaeghe is established enough as a pro that he doesn’t necessarily need the ice time that a younger prospect would be sent down to get.

Will Jan Rutta ever play?

The defenseman hasn’t played in two weeks. It would probably be good to get him a game now and then to keep him fresh, but it does not appear Rutta will see much ice time without an injury. For now, that means a lot of bag skates at the end of practice. Not much fun.

Have a question for Diana C. Nearhos? Email dnearhos@tampabay.com or hit her up on Twitter @dianacnearhos.

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