Lightning’s Ryan Callahan suffers career-ending back injury

Tampa Bay Lightning winger Ryan Callahan (24) suffered a career-ending back injury. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

Tampa Bay Lightning winger Ryan Callahan has been diagnosed with degenerative back disease and doctors have recommended he no longer play professional hockey.

Lightning GM Julien BriseBois confirmed the news to team sideline reporter Caley Chelios at the NHL Draft.

“The likeliest scenario now is that we are going to put him on long term injury exemption and that is how we’re going to manage his cap hit going forward,” BriseBois told Chelios.

“He’s such a proud competitor such a fierce competitor. I know he was planning to not only play out this contract, but sign another contract after that. We had multiple conversations in the second half of the season about his future so that was very sad news for him.”

Callahan, 34, has one year remaining on his contract with the Lightning that would have carried a $4.7 million cap hit. He will be placed on long-term injured reserve next season, which will open up that cap space for the Lightning to use elsewhere.

In an interview with’s Bryan Burns, Callahan said he’s been dealing with a back injuries for a couple seasons but the 2018-19 campaign was “the worst that it’s ever been.”

“I’ve kind of been battling it all year,” Callahan said. “Didn’t know to what extent and after the season I went and saw a couple specialists and after talking to them, it wasn’t easy to hear what they thought was going on and most likely won’t be able to play. It was definitely tough to hear that.”

Callahan was limited to only 52 games last season, where he scored seven goals and 17 points. Originally a fourth-round pick by the New York Rangers in 2004, Callahan appeared in 757 games, where he scored 186 goals and 386 points.

When asked by Burns what he plans to do now that his playing career is over, Callahan said he was unsure but is looking forward to spending more time with his family.

“I definitely don’t know what the next chapter is but it’s a little bit too early to think about that right now,” he said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the family and kind of process everything that’s going on.”

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