No. 7: There were any number of way Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli could’ve spent his free agent money last summer.
He could’ve cleared some cap space to go for a huge fish for up front like Marian Hossa, he could’ve addressed the defense with a pursuit of Wade Redden or Brian Campbell, or he could’ve held onto the money and waited to see if the exact same team from last year would improve on its own.
What he opted to do was lure winger Michael Ryder to Boston. And that decision, along with the impact Ryder has had on the 2008-09 edition of the Bruins, is important enough to earn its spot on the list of Top 10 Bruins Stories of ’08.
After back-to-back 30-goal seasons with Montreal out of the lockout, Ryder found himself in the doghouse in 2007-08 with the Canadiens. In 70 games with the Habs, he managed just 14 goals and 17 assists. He only appeared in four playoff games and obviously needed a change of scenery. A few teams chased Ryder, but after a three-hour delay from the time the Bruins had made their final offer July 1, the right winger chose the Bruins.
Perhaps the biggest reason was his connection to Boston head coach Claude Julien, who had coached Ryder in junior, the AHL and the NHL with Montreal.
“When I was in junior, I came up from back home and he gave me an opportunity in Hull. Not too many people knew me and that’s pretty much where the relationship started,” Ryder recalled the day after inking a three-year, $12 million deal with Boston. “He knows me, what kind of player I am and what I can do. It’s good when you can see a coach that knows what you can do and knows how to get the best out of you.”
Julien was overjoyed to be adding a potential sniper like Ryder to a line-up that too often in 2007-08 only scored in spread out bunches. Just as important, Julien explained that Ryder was the type of player that could score within the Bruins’ responsible system.
“I think what people have to understand too is that Michael Ryder doesn’t just score goals. He’s capable of playing in other areas, and he’s shown that in the past,” the coach said. “He’s capable of playing a very physical game, he’s capable of taking care of his own end, he takes those responsibilities. And also, I think we’ve gotten ourselves a player that can do more than score goals. Obviously, scoring goals is something that we desperately needed. And Michael will provide us with that. I think it’s easy to look at his last year, and as he mentioned, sometimes your role changes, teams take a different direction, and right now you have to look back at the years before. Michael hasn’t just scored a lot of goals in one year, he’s scored a lot of goals for most of his career.”
When this season started, the Bruins were red-hot but Ryder was slagging. The mega-deal he signed looked like it was headed to embarrassing territory for Chiarelli. But the Bruins’ faith in Ryder didn’t waver. After he scored just three goals in the first 22 games of the season, Ryder showed signs of life with a two-goal game Nov. 28 against the New York Islanders. Including that game, Ryder has popped in nine goals in the last 12 games — and proven that he’s every bit the player now that he was in Montreal prior to his lost season of last winter.