After last season’s disappointing results, Steve Yzerman and the Wings’ brass needed to have a busy off-season. A flurry of signings and releases has meant the Detroit Red Wings’ roster is going to have a different look this upcoming season. Every hockey player has a past, present and, most importantly for Wings’ fans, future. Although the future is impossible to predict, markers in a player’s past can indicate a projected path. Let’s examine some of those clues.
There aren’t many people in the world, let alone in the NHL, that will experience what Bobby Ryan has in his 33-years-of-life. The New Jersey native, born Robert Shane Stevenson in 1987 had not clue that, at only 10 years-of-age, his entire life would change. After watching the St. Louis Blues face the Philadelphia Flyers, Robert’s father dropped his son off at home, went to the local bar and returned home in a drunken rage. He attacked Robert’s mother and caused her to suffer a skull fracture, four broken ribs and a punctured lung. Robert’s father fled to Canada for seven months until he organized a reunion with his wife and son in California so that Robert could play elite level hockey. This is when his family adopted the alias, Bobby Ryan, for Robert – an alias he continues to use as his legal name today. The Ryan family shared their story in a heartfelt but tragic interview in 2013, where the expressed that Ryan had used hockey as an outlet. Fortunately, his determination on-the-ice paid off when he was drafted second overall by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the 2005 NHL entry draft. Ryan would spend the next few years in the OHL and AHL but made history in 2009 when he became the first rookie in Anaheim Ducks’ history to record a hat trick and break the franchise rookie point record with 64. The high-flying rookie would spend the next few seasons in Anaheim and was traded to the Ottawa Senators in 2013, where he was forced to end his season early to undergo sports hernia surgery. The Senators believed in Ryan and signed him to a seven-year, $50.75 million contract extension. Ryan repaid the favour by qualifying for his first ever All-Star Game. Unfortunately, after several disappointing years in Ottawa, Ryan entered the NHL/NHLPA assistance program to combat his alcohol issues. His time in Ottawa had come to an end but, as they say, as one door closes, another one opens. This past off-season, the American forward was placed on waivers with the intent of buying out his contract…
On the opening day of free agency, Steve Yzerman signed Bobby Ryan to a one-year, $1 million contract. Because of his history, the Ryan’s impact is difficult to predict, however after several professionally and personally tumultuous years, there likely isn’t a better situation for him to have walked into. The Wings need scoring from their 2nd and 3rd lines, as they cannot continue to rely on their high-flying youngsters’ line. There is a chance that on opening day Bobby Ryan will be slotted as the starting 2nd line left-winger – but this is not a guarantee. He’ll have to prove himself in training camp. But Ryan produced for so many years while battling addiction, so it will be exciting to see how he performs after completing the NHL’s addiction assistance program. By bringing Ryan in on a 1-year deal, the risk for Yzerman is minimal, but it could pay serious dividends on-the-ice and off. By all accounts, Ryan was a great teammate and leader throughout his NHL career. He played 13 seasons in the NHL, was both an All-Star and Olympic finalist and has only produced under 30 points once in his career – this is exactly the experience this Red Wings team needs: they are young and in a rebuild…Ryan is older and looking to leave the game on a high note. Yzerman made a lot of shrewd signings this off-season and, while this one carries the biggest question-mark, it also holds a prospect of the biggest reward.
Heads turned when Yzerman signed Bobby Ryan on the first day of free agency. There are many around the league who feel Ryan is well past his prime and not worth the $1 million gamble. However, those people aren’t Stevie Y. Yzerman has a knack for spotting talent, which is why he was one of the architects that helped build the Tampa Bay Lightning team that just won the Stanley Cup. Will Bobby Ryan be the savior that brings Detroit back to the playoffs? Probably not. But he could be an instant impact player. By scoring timely goals, Ryan holds the ability to help instill confidence in a young core and get the Wings back to a culture of winning. Also, the risk is minimal for the Wings, Yzerman and Ryan. If things don’t pan out, the upcoming prospects will get more ice-time, and if they do, the Wings could become a thorn-in-the-side of the Atlantic division. While this may only last a year-or-two for Ryan, that new legacy could persist for many, many years after his departure.