When the Ottawa Senators announced the buyout of the 2020 Bill Masterton Award winner Bobby Ryan, the initial reaction from the fanbase was that of confusion and irritation. The decision to buy out Ryan now is very puzzling. as they are below the salary cap floor, have no significantly expensive restricted or unrestricted free agents to sign, and likely won’t be big players in free agency. The organization says that the deal is a hockey move, in order to free up space for other players.
Despite what the official statement may be, the prime reason for these high profile departures (at least in the Senators’ case) is usually due to internal factors. It is no coincidence that buying out Ryan’s contract brings a great deal of savings in real salary, in exchange for a longer payment plan.
Show Me The Money
It comes as zero surprise that this move is likely due to money. According to CapFriendly, the Senators will save $3.7 million in real-world money over the course of the buyout. This combined with the fact that the team can pay Ryan over the course of many years rather than two falls in line with the other controversial financial moves that Senators ownership has made for the last decade.
The Senators organization will never say if the buyout was made due to financial concerns, even if it is obvious the franchise is a rough position money-wise. The league is already in a precarious position due to lack of playoff revenue, a proposed December 2020/January 2021 start to the season, and a flat salary cap next season. Even with these handicaps, the Sens are in a better position than most due to minimal salary commitment and with the upcoming roster likely filled with entry-level contracts. This penny pinching is no longer acceptable and paints the organization in a bad light every time it happens.
Even when you take into account the financial issues the team may or may not have, buying out Ryan’s contract is not a good look. At $7.25 million per year, it is a heavy price to pay, even more so when you look at the downward trend in his play. However, keeping the deal on the books for the next two seasons was more than manageable.
A PR Nightmare
Ryan’s fall and rise is one of the most notable things to come out of the franchise in several years, and his capture of the Masterton Trophy this season gave the Senators a good image for the first time in a while. Buying him out now takes that away just as fast as it was captured. Combined with the news that fan-favorites Craig Anderson and Mark Borowiecki would not be returning, fans are reminded of this organization’s history regarding free agency and the refusal to pay their players. (from ‘Mark Borowiecki says the time has come to “start a new chapter” in his NHL career,’ Ottawa Sun, 09/10/2020)
Related: Senators Will Not Re-Sign Anderson
The Senators organization just seems to enjoy making the same mistakes again and again when it comes to long-time players. This happened with Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Mark Stone, and countless others. While these players were not bought out, and were significantly better then Ryan, they were all treated poorly in their final days as a Senator, whether it was refusing to pay Alfredsson and Stone what they were worth, or bumbling the Spezza situation completely.
The NHL is a business, and the decisions that are made are almost never personal, but you need to be able to have a good relationship with those who support you. We saw what happened with the Senators’ attendance numbers before COVID-19. The negative attention surrounding the franchise has once again returned, and will likely overshadow the much-needed new logo and jerseys that will be revealed at the NHL draft. Money is an important aspect of running a team, but it can’t be the first priority if you want to compete.
If the Senators intend this as a “hockey decision” then they need to be active during the draft and when free agency arrives. With a ridiculous amount of draft capital that includes three first-round picks, they need to be prepared to make decisions that will bring the team from mediocrity into a new age of competitiveness.
That includes being smart with their cap space by either taking on bad contracts for prospects and more draft picks or finally committing to signing or trading for a top NHL player. The team has a legitimate chance to come out of the offseason as a franchise that has been rejuvenated. If the team does nothing with this extra cap space, then they will have bought him out for nothing. If dumping Ryan results in a lateral move or a step backward, the opinion towards the Senators will fall even further downwards.
The End Of An Era
Say what you will about Ryan’s contract and his quality of play, but he was among a special group of Senators who were within a goal of the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. He became one of the best stories of persistence and dedication to the game of hockey. In his seven seasons in the capital, he scored 107 goals and 159 assists for 266 points. He leaves Ottawa holding down 14th place in team history for points and goals.
I would not be surprised to see Ryan move on to a new squad for a much lower salary. His time in the NHL isn’t over, it’s just a shame his time in Ottawa had to end the same way as other Senators favorites, which once again illustrates the frustration many have with the franchise as a whole. These feelings will remain as long as the goal in Ottawa is to save money and not win hockey games. Ryan is just the latest victim in a long line of players scorned.
My name is Ben Fraser, i’ve been involved with hockey since I was eleven years old. I’m currently pursuing a journalism degree at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, while living in Ottawa, Ontario during my time off. I’ve been playing hockey since I was eleven, and writing since I was fourteen.