Ryan’s role in Senators’ Rebuild

The 2017-18 and 2018-19 NHL seasons were a disaster for the Ottawa Senators. After reaching the conference finals in the 2016-17 NHL Playoffs, the Senators found themselves near or at the bottom of the standings in the following two seasons. Over the course of the last two seasons, their general manager, Pierre Dorion, shipped out the bulk of their veteran players. However, through all of the team’s trades, and their transition from contender to rebuilder, one well-known veteran remains a Senator, Bobby Ryan.

Bobby Ryan (center) celebrating a goal. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Beginning at the 2018 Trade Deadline, rumours of Erik Karlsson and Ryan being packaged in a deal to the Vegas Golden Knights swirled around the team. While neither player ended up being dealt at the deadline, Ryan himself believed that they’d both been traded.

“I heard on Sunday it was done and somebody backed out at the last second…Karl and I were like, ‘pack it up’. We thought we were gone.”

From ‘Bobby Ryan’s days in Ottawa are likely numbered – and he’s handling it like a pro’ – Ottawa Sun – March 13, 2018

However, only one season after Ryan thought he was heading back west, he now finds himself as one of the only veteran players on a younger, rebuilding Senators squad. The “win-now” mode that the Senators found themselves in only a short two seasons ago has vanished. The rebuild of the Senators is now in full swing. But, even as one of the more experienced players on the roster, his role on the team remains in question. There are a few factors that define his role during the rebuilding period that the Senators find themselves in.

Senators right wing Bobby Ryan
Senators right wing Bobby Ryan (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Ryan’s Leadership is Invaluable

Ryan emerged as a young star on the Anaheim Ducks in 2007-08 under the leadership of players such as Teemu Selanne, Chris Pronger, and Scott Niedermayer. As the second-oldest player on the Senators roster, and with 12 NHL seasons under his belt, Ryan now has a bulk of NHL experience that he can use to guide the Senators’ younger players.

Ryan has experience going through the highs and lows of being an NHL player. From being on one of the worst teams in the league and on the verge of being traded, to being a key component in a deep playoff run he has seen it all. He’s been scrutinized for his fragility and lack of production for the last few seasons, but has acknowledged the validity of this criticism rather than hiding from it.

Bobby Ryan Ottawa Senators
Bobby Ryan’s leadership is vital to a young Senators roster. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While not easy to accept criticism, Ryan has always handled it with maturity and class. He has a vast wealth of knowledge when it comes to the on and off-ice pressures that exist in the NHL, which is valuable experience that young players like Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot do not have. Ryan’s role as a leader and a mentor for the Senators’ young group is an important one going forward.

Ryan Remains a Productive Player

While Ryan doesn’t have the goal-scoring touch that he once had, he is still able to contribute at the level of a strong third line winger. In 78 games this season, he had 15 goals and 27 assists. This was good enough for fourth on the team. With the departure of three of the Senators’ best point producers this season, he will be relied upon even more to provide offence next season. His various hand injuries have dampened his goal-scoring capabilities, but his abilities as a playmaker are occasionally noticeable when he makes seeing-eye passes or nifty plays to set up scoring opportunities for his teammates.

Bobby Ryan Ottawa Senators
Bobby Ryan remains a productive player. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ryan is also a reliable power-play option, scoring 16 of his 42 points on the man advantage this season. Whether screening the goalie as a presence in front of the net, looking for a deflection or tip-in, or waiting for the one-timer in the slot, Ryan can still be relied upon to help with the Senators’ power play.

Ryan’s Contract

Apart from his leadership qualities and ability to produce at an acceptable rate, Ryan’s contract itself actually plays a part in his role with the Senators’ rebuild. While most teams look at different approaches to get rid of bad contracts, his hefty contract benefits the team.

Last summer the NHL announced that the new salary cap floor would be $58.8 million. According to CapFriendly, the Senators currently sit at a cap hit of $47.8 million. With three more years with a cap hit of $7.25 million, Ryan’s contract helps push the Senators closer to the cap floor. It’s important to note that the contracts of Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Mikkel Boedker, and Clarke MacArthur all expire at the end of the 2019-20 season. With these contracts expiring, Ryan’s higher cap hit over the next few seasons will get Ottawa closer to the salary floor, without restricting their ability to re-sign key restricted free agents like Christian Wolanin, Chabot, and Tkachuk.

Bobby Ryan #9 Ottawa Senators
Bobby Ryan’s contract benefits the Senators. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It was only a short couple of seasons ago that Ryan was seen as a contractual detriment to the Senators. He was heavily criticized as being injury prone and not living up to his name. However, as the Senators now find themselves in the midst of a rebuild with a new coaching staff, Ryan’s role will be pivotal in mentoring the younger players, while also proving that he still has gas left in the tank.