It's the best time of year!
Big names always get the most attention on July 1st during the free agent frenzy. Last summer the buzz centered around Jaromir Jagr and Brad Richards, causing other signings to get lost in the fray. One of those signings featured Dallas inking Michael Ryder. The well-calculated signing paid dividends for the Stars this season.
Previously playing in two big hockey markets, Ryder has faced some criticism in his career. After scoring 30 goals in back-to-back seasons with Montreal, Ryder followed it up by failing to reach the 20-goal plateau in three of the next four seasons. He eventually fell out of favor in Montreal and wasn’t getting a good enough opportunity to stay in Boston.
So he chose to sign with the Dallas Stars, a team where he knew he would get more of an opportunity to put his underappreciated offensive talents on display.
“I play more here in more situations – it’s what I wanted,” said Ryder, who signed a two-year, $7 million contract with the Stars last summer. “It’s good to come to a team that sees you as one of those players and give you that chance to play on the top lines. That’s all I wanted and everything has seemed to fit well for me.”
Not only did Ryder record a career-high 35 tallies in his first season in Dallas, but he was clutch all year for his new team. The Newfoundland native scored 16 third period goals for the Stars and finished with six game-winning goals, second most on the team.
“He’s been clutch, been a big part of our success this year,” said Mike Ribeiro, who spent a portion of the year centering a line featuring Ryder. “There are not a lot of guys that can shoot the puck like he can. You need guys like that to put the puck in the net.”
Referring back to their post-lockout playing days in Montreal, Ribeiro said of Ryder, “He’s more mature, he knows the game better.”
Ryder was a key contributor for the Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins last spring, recording 17 points in 25 games from the third line. That success obviously carried over for the Stars sniper.
“[Thirty-five] goals means a lot to us,” Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan said. “He’s come up big in the big games. He did that in the playoffs for Boston and he’s done that for us, too. We don’t score easy and he’s put a lot of pucks in the net for us. He’s been a real welcome addition.”
With the Stars’ ownership situation in flux they couldn’t afford to retain their prized free agent Brad Richards, who ended up signing a nine-year deal with the New York Rangers. Instead, Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk had to take some chances on overlooked veterans such as Ryder and Sheldon Souray.
In a market short on reliable goal-scorers, signing Ryder to a cost-efficient, short-term contract was the best thing Nieuwendyk did last offseason. In fact, it was one of the better moves any team made in a crazy free agent market.
“I’m sure next year he’ll be even more comfortable,” Ribeiro said. “To a team and the room, he can bring things that he saw in the playoffs. Obviously winning a Stanley Cup and seeing what you have to go through to do that, he can spread the word to the young guys – and we have a young team, so it’s good to have a veteran that has won the Cup.”
Ryder spent a fair amount of the season playing alongside Ribeiro and Jamie Benn (and Loui Eriksson at times), forming a formidable top line for the Stars. Ryder credits the chance to play with those talented forwards as the biggest reason why he had a career year.
“When you have linemates like that, it makes everything else on the ice easier,” Ryder said.
“In Boston I probably played between 12 and 14 minutes most of the time. Here I play 17 or 18 minutes a game. … It’s easy to get your confidence up. My confidence is pretty good this year. I wanted to make sure I took advantage of this opportunity.”
Has he ever.
Ryder will continue to play a big role for the Stars next season, and he hopes it’s as successful a campaign as this year’s.
“I like it [in Dallas]. I didn’t know what to expect when I came here,” he said. “It’s been a good move for me and I’m happy to be here.”
Photo credit: Getty Images
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