TAMPA — Ryan Callahan is ahead of schedule. The forward had a target date of Nov. 1, on the early side, to return from offseason shoulder surgery, but the Lightning is making moves that imply he may see the ice sooner.
That date could be tonight's game against the Red Wings at Amalie Arena.
Coach Jon Cooper said Wednesday that Callahan could play on the five-game road trip that begins Saturday. He didn't say if Callahan might play before that, but he didn't say no, either.
"The mere fact that we're having this conversation means he's way ahead of schedule," Cooper said. "We always err on the side of caution, but 'Cally' has progressed so well, and if we find a way to get him in, we're going to. It's definitely going to be sooner than later."
Callahan had surgery on his right shoulder after the Lightning was knocked out of the playoffs in late May and was given a recovery time line of five months. He dislocated the shoulder in December and missed three weeks, then injured it again in March and missed five games. Callahan missed two more games at the start of the playoffs, then played through pain for 15 games.
An early return would be a combination of factors: smooth surgery, Callahan's rehabilitation efforts and luck.
"When guys are in the shape he's in, you're probably going to heal a little bit quicker," Cooper said. "He also helped the process with how hard he worked."
Callahan is one of the players Cooper and the staff might have to protect from himself a bit — most players are eager to get back on the ice after health problems even if they aren't quite healthy — but the 33-year-old is also veteran enough to know his body.
The Lightning took the first step in freeing up a roster spot for Callahan by placing Cory Conacher on waivers, a likely precursor to sending him to the AHL. But the Lightning also re-signed Conacher to a one-year, one-way deal for next season worth $700,000. Conacher played in one of the Lightning's first four games.
That move says something about Mathieu Joseph, a 21-year-old rookie on a two-way contract, which means he could have been sent down without needing to clear waivers. Joseph, who was something of a surprise to make the team out of training camp, has earned his spot for now.
"He passes the test every time he plays," Cooper said. "It's one thing you look for in players: Are they going to sag? At some point, probably, but he's showing no signs of that. He's actually getting better."
If there wasn't a chance to get Joseph double-digit minutes consistently, the Lightning might have considered sending him down, but he's averaging about 13:30 and "he's helping us win games," Cooper said.
Dotchin signs with Anaheim
Defenseman Jake Dotchin, released by the Lightning at the start of training camp for what the team called a breach of contract, signed a one-year deal with Anaheim. It was believed the Lightning parted ways with Dotchin, 24, because he came to camp out of shape. Before he signed with Anaheim, the players association filed a grievance against the Lightning on Dotchin's behalf, Dotchin's agent, Samuel Perreault, said.