Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan is getting credit this week for doing his part to help general manager Steve Yzerman reel in two unrestricted free agents last week.
Defenseman Anton Stralman and center Brian Boyle confirmed in separate interviews that Callahan, their former captain with the New York Rangers, influenced their decisions to sign with the Lightning shortly after the free-agent signing period got under way last Tuesday.
Stralman signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract; Boyle signed a three-year, $6 million contract. Yzerman said after signing them that he spoke with Callahan, as did the players.
"I just kind of wanted to hear his thoughts, so he obviously had an impact on my decision," Stralman said Tuesday. "I already had a good idea about Tampa, and just wanted to confirm everything."
Callahan played with Boyle and Stralman in New York until he was traded to Tampa Bay on March 5. Callahan then gave up the chance to become an unrestricted free agent on June 25 when he signed a six-year contract extension with the Lightning.
Clearly he became a believer in his brief run with the Lightning last season. He shared that with his former and now again teammates.
"He was telling me about how great the area is and how fun it is, and with the group what to expect," Boyle told The Tampa Tribune on Monday. "He had a great time. He's real excited and I'm real excited not only to play with [Callahan] again, which is something that is going to be fun, but with a whole new scene.
"… Tampa looks good on paper right now, which is what a lot of people are saying."
Stralman feels the same way. He noted the progress the Lightning made last season, when they finished with 101 points before being swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference First Round. Ben Bishop, a Vezina Trophy finalist, missed the series with a wrist injury.
The Lightning finished 28th in the League standings in 2012-13; they were eighth last season despite not having center Steven Stamkos for 45 games because of a broken leg.
"I think this team is close to complete," Stralman said. "The forwards have tremendous firepower, best scorer in the League [Stamkos] -- you can't ask for more than that. Defensively, they're solid. They have some big guys, guys that are strong. And obviously Bishop has been great too. Again, I'm excited."
Stralman also likes the Lightning because they were able to give him the stability he craves for himself and his family, including his four children. His contract reportedly includes a modified no-trade clause.
Stralman has played under three contracts over the past four seasons since the expiration of his entry-level contract, which he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Officially, the Lightning are his fourth team, but in 2011 Stralman spent training camp with the New Jersey Devils on a professional tryout contract. After being released from the PTO, Stralman signed a one-year contract with the Rangers on Nov. 3, 2011. He recently completed a two-year, $3.4 million contract.
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"It's huge," Stralman said of the stability his contract with the Lightning provides. "That's exactly what we were hoping for. Going into free agency, all we really wanted was a long deal, a security deal with a no-trade. I'm really happy and appreciate very much what Tampa gave me."
Stralman isn't yet sure where he fits in or who his first defense partner will be, but he said he changed his style in New York to become more defensive. He doesn't plan to sacrifice his defense in Tampa Bay, but wants to rediscover some of his offense there.
He had 13 points in 81 games last season after seven points in 48 games in 2012-13, but ironically Stralman's defense in New York was actually based in offense.
Stralman led the Rangers with a 56.5-percent Corsi-for last season and a 57.3-percent Corsi-for in 2012-13. He was a combined plus-23 during those seasons.
"I like the way Tampa plays," Stralman said. "It's always fun games coming in here. They play very offensive. Offensively they come with a lot of people all the time and that's something that is really attractive to be a part of. That's something I really like."
After New York lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final, Boyle said he was seeking a bigger role with more offensive responsibility than the Rangers were willing to offer him. He was a fourth-line forward and penalty killer in New York last season, but he wants the freedom to be more than that.
The Lightning may provide him with it, but more importantly Boyle's new team provides him with a chance to pursue an opportunity that always intrigued him, all while appeasing his new wife, model Lauren Bedford, who is from Orlando, Fla.
"[Playing in Tampa] was always something I had my eye on if it came up, and me and my wife talked about it -- if down the road, wouldn't that be a nice place to play," Boyle told the Tribune. "Lucky for us, it happened two days later and we jumped on it."