In winning the Stanley Cup in Tampa in 2004 we were led in the post-season by a number of players. Brad Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy, Nikolai Khabibulin was all-world in net and Marty St-Louis was ‘Mr. Clutch.’
However, one of the unsung heroes of our run was Ruslan Fedotenko. ‘Feds’ tied Richards for the team lead in playoff goals with 12; almost single-handedly eliminated his former team, the Philadelphia Flyers, in the Eastern Conference final; and scored our club’s only two goals in the decisive Game 7 win against Calgary. Without Fedotenko’s offensive outburst, we would not have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Watching Michael Ryder help the Boston Bruins dismantle his former team, the Montreal Canadiens, in Round 1 of this year’s playoffs reminded me of Fedotenko’s performance against Philadelphia. It truly had to be a dagger in the heart for Habs fans as they watched one of their own (an eighth round draft pick of Montreal’s in 1998 who came up through the farm system) record four goals and seven points to lead the arch-rival B’s in scoring.
It had to hurt even more to know it was a former Habs bench boss, Claude Julien, who was reaping the reward from Ryder’s team-leading performance. After all, it has been well-documented that Ryder played some of his best hockey when playing for Julien in the American League (Hamilton) and again in the NHL (Montreal and Boston).
As Ryder spent an inordinate amount of time last season in then-coach Guy Carbonneau’s dog house, recording only 14 goals and 31 points in 70 games, it was difficult to gaze into the future and imagine Ryder rebounding anywhere this season. In fact, it was difficult to envision Ryder earning another high-value, one-way contract. Many in the industry excoriated Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli when he rewarded Ryder with a three-year, $12-million deal last summer.
Just typing that sentence reminds me of the slings and arrows I endured in the summer of 2002 when I traded the fourth pick overall to Philadelphia for the rights to unsigned restricted free agent Ruslan Fedotenko. It was bad enough I made such a horrendous trade, but the talking heads believed I had compounded my mistake by acquiring a player who was unsigned. I was further criticized for overpaying once I signed Ruslan later that summer.
In the Eastern Conference final in 2004, Fedotenko broke the Flyers’ hearts. He scored six goals in the series, adding to the three he already recorded up to that point and capped off his post-season run with three more against the Flames in the final. Again, Without Fedotenko’s offensive production we simply don’t win the Cup.
Having driven the stake through the hearts of the Habs, what does Ryder do for an encore? Under Julien, Ryder rebounded to pot 27 regular season goals this year and his four goals against Montreal tied for the team lead. Presumably, Ryder and the B’s are just getting started. Will Ryder continue his hot hand for the Bruins? Can he channel his inner Ruslan Fedotenko circa 2004?
If he does, don’t be surprised to see Boston skating with Lord Stanley’s Cup. You can’t win it without one of those ‘unsung heroes.’
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.