With all 31 NHL teams announcing their nominees for the Bill Masterton trophy, Bobby Ryan’s name stands out amongst the crowd. As stated by the NHL, the trophy is “awarded annually to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.” To me, Ryan represents that description with flying colours.
With everything that has come to light, it is in my opinion that Ryan is the most deserving nominee for the trophy this season. He displays all three tenants of what the award stands for, and not just during the 2019-20 season. His leadership, dedication, and sportsmanship have been on display since he was a child.
Bobby Ryan’s Issues Outside Hockey
While Ryan’s troubles came to the forefront this season, it began during his childhood. Outlined in the Sportsnet special, “The Secret Life of Bobby Ryan,” he dealt with his parents troubled marriage, a violent father, and growing up without him when his father was arrested. The scarring that came from his traumatic upbringing was never really resolved, as he carried that trauma with him through his entire life.
On Nov. 20, 2019, he took an extended absence from the Senators, which was purposefully vague, only referencing that he had undergone the NHL’s substance abuse program. It was later revealed by Ryan that he was dealing with an addiction to alcohol that had been present for a significant amount of time. He missed three months of the season while in the program and returned to the team in February. According to him, the therapy helped to get him back to a stable state.
Bobby Ryan’s Perseverance
When Ryan completed the program in February of 2020, he was ready to get back in the Senators’ lineup. He made his return to the NHL on Feb. 25 in a loss against the Nashville Predators. While he didn’t have a significant game on the scoresheet, putting up four shots, the fact that he was able to return to hockey is a milestone in itself. The biggest triumph for him would come in the next game.
In his return to home ice on Feb. 27, the Senators were up against the Vancouver Canucks, and Ryan put up one of the most memorable games in the history of the franchise. He scored three goals that night, beginning with a deflected goal from a point shot from Nikita Zaitsev during the first period. His second came from a bar-down shot from the slot on a pass from Chris Tierney, which put the Sens up 4-2. A few seconds later, he would provide the dagger. He scored the empty-net goal that clinched the game and his the hat trick, his first since 2014.
Related: Ryan’s role in Senators’ Rebuild
He was visibly emotional as the fans in the Canadian Tire Center gave a lengthy ovation and chanted his name. This completed his comeback to the NHL and provided one of the most special moments in not only franchise history, but perhaps in the history of hockey.
Bobby Ryan’s Leadership
Even without his hat trick in February, the fact that Ryan made it back to the NHL this season is worthy of the award. As previously stated, the Masterton is awarded for dedication to the game, and Ryan showed that his dedication to the game is worthy of recognition. The fact that he even made it to pro hockey after the traumatic events of his childhood is worthy of acknowledgement. He fought his demons and pushed himself to return to the game his loved.
The main reason for Ryan to win isn’t completely based on his play this season. A major moniker for the award is also leadership, and he showed that his leadership abilities are among the strongest in the NHL. A quality of a great leader is to set examples, and by coming to terms with his issues, he set an example not only to his teammates but to the rest of the league.
Even with the trend of mental health becoming less stigmatized, athletes are often grouped into a category of people who make millions of dollars and play a game for a living, so their struggles are often pushed to the side. It takes courage to stand up and face the issues, mental or physical, and it becomes even more difficult when your journey comes with the media circus as it did with Ryan and many other athletes.
It won’t happen overnight, but by facing his problems, it may inspire other players to focus on their mental health. Leadership is about making the best decision, not always the most popular one. By contributing his voice to the conversation on mental health, he may help players in the future.
Bobby Ryan’s Dedication
Through all his issues, even going back to his childhood, hockey was the thing that distracted Ryan from his problems. It became an outlet for him, and he turned his childhood activity into a career. He was drafted second overall in 2005, playing more than 800 career games, and scoring more than 250 goals. His will to play NHL has been tested more than enough times and has shown that he is one of the most dedicated to play the game.
His entry into and completion of the NHL’s substance abuse program is the most recent of his many battles. It took until his 13th NHL season to get physical recognition for his dedication, but it is time that the rest of the league and hockey fans worldwide recognize that.
What Does It Mean For The Future?
If Ryan were to win the trophy, he would join New Jersey Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko and Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner as other award winners who had battled alcoholism. The only other Senator to win the award is goalie Craig Anderson, who won in 2017.
If Ryan wins, it won’t solve the issues that he has, as alcoholism is a lifetime struggle. However, it will give merit to that pain, and give him, and others physical proof that you are able to push back and be successful.
The Masterton Trophy should also go to the player who best represents its qualifications. In 2020, Ryan personifies what it means to be dedicated to the game of hockey. This is why he should win the 2020 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.