At this point, it doesn’t matter what’s wrong with Michael Ryder.
Ryder’s leap this year has been a thoroughly backwards one. As the Montreal Canadiens set sail on their west coast swing, he was on pace for just 16 goals after hitting the 30-goal barrier each of the last two seasons. Not exactly the kind of leverage Ryder was looking for as he enters unrestricted free agency this July for the first time in his career.
But all this is old news. What Ryder’s done to this point became irrelevant the moment the trade deadline past and he, despite many rumors to the contrary, was still a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
What’s significant is Montreal, unlike last year, is going to have two seasons this year; the 82-game warm-up and the best-of-seven survival tournament. Ryder showed up to the dress rehearsal with his skates on the wrong feet and the fat end of his hockey stick in his hands. But if he can get himself straightened around for the big spring dance, he’s got a shot at redemption.
And before you guffaw at the notion Ryder can yet get back on the goal-scoring horse this year, remember this; he’s lost his confidence, not his talent. Skilled players have a funny habit of materializing just when you least expect it.
Remember when the Canadiens traded for Alex Kovalev back in 2004? The guy who has probably the most natural ability of any Montreal player since Guy Lafleur came in and posted a painful one goal and three points over 12 regular season stretch-run games. Then the playoffs hit and Kovalev kicked his game into gear, notching six goals and 10 points in 11 contests.
A similar run by Ryder isn’t beyond comprehension. He’s always been a streaky sniper, even at the best of times. He’s likely been bumped for good from top-line duty (understandably so), but with speedy Mikhail Grabovski up with the big club, there’s a chance Ryder could find his mojo again while playing with an offense-minded center.
Maybe GM Bob Gainey’s next bold move should be to offer Ryder a contract before anybody else can. His stock has never been lower and there’s only one place the easy-going Newfoundlander can go from here.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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