WILMINGTON, Mass. — Either Michael Ryder is an Olivier-caliber actor, or he is truly oblivious to the fact that his name has been coming up for months as the leading candidate to be sliced from the Bruins’ salary cap once Marc Savard and Marco Sturm are ready to return from long-term injury reserve.
You would think that a guy who has been living the NHL high life for more than seven years would be dreading the idea that he could be riding the buses in the AHL in a month or so. However, Ryder says becoming the next Wade Redden or Sheldon Souray hasn’t crossed his mind.
“I never thought about it, you know, actually,” Ryder told TheBruinsBlog.net today after the Bruins’ healthy players were limited to just an off-ice workout at Ristuccia Arena. “I never really thought about it to be honest. If it happens, no one really wants to go down there. But if it happens, it happens. We’ll just wait and see I guess.”
The Bruins have $4 million reasons to put Ryder through waivers and hope he goes unclaimed. Cutting that type of salary would make general manager Peter Chiarelli’s life a bit easier when it comes to re-inserting Savard ($4.007 million cap hit) and Sturm ($3.5). Plus, Ryder could be recalled for the playoffs without going through re-entry waivers. If Boston tried an in-season recall, a team could get him at half his salary, with the Bruins paying the other half (and it counting against their cap).
However, Ryder has plenty of his own reasons to think he’s safe — like his 10 points and his 14 hits. In fact, Ryder is off to his best start as since joining the Bruins. In his first season, he put up just 2-6-8 totals in his first 13 games en route to 27-26-53 totals for the year. Last season, he started his disappointing 33-point campaign with just 3-3-6 totals in 13 games.
Through 13 games this year, Ryder is tied for third on the club in scoring with 10 points (four goals). Even more impressive, he’s among the team leaders, as far as forwards, in hits. He’s playing a more responsible and assertive game after coasting through last winter.
“I feel good out there,” said Ryder. “This year, I feel healthy out there and I think I’m a little stronger this year, so that helps a lot. And it’s just confidence. Once you get that confidence up, everything just feels a lot better from there.”
Many, including Bruins president Cam Neely, have pointed to the heated competition the Bruins had in training camp as a major reason for the better starts of players like Ryder and Blake Wheeler, who are trying to rebound after off ’09-10 seasons. Ryder admits that helped, but really he just wanted to find it within himself to bear down and be a bigger contributor.
“For me, I wanted to make sure I played well to make sure I got off to a good start,” he said. ‘I have a tendency some times to start off a little slow. Me, I just wanted to make sure to do that for myself and help the team get off to a better start.”
Bruins head coach Claude Julien used a portion of his morning media briefing to update on Savard and Sturm’s status. Both are still at the very least a few weeks away from returning, with Savard’s return from a concussion probably ahead of Sturm’s comeback from last spring’s knee surgery. That time frame, to the coach, means salary-cap compliance and potential cuts are not worth debating right now. And even if they were worth discussing, that’s a matter for Chiarelli and his aides.
Julien’s focus is just on-ice performance. And as far as he’s concerned, Ryder, whom he has coached at every level since junior hockey, isn’t playing like a guy that belongs in the minors.
“I guess as a coach, I would ask ‘Why bring Michael’s name up? Why is he the one that’s being pointed at right now?’ said Julien. “Well you’re going to say, ‘well, his salary and everything else.’ There’s no reason right now in the world to even look at anybody. For me, I think Michael’s had a real good start to the season. And all it’s going to do is make people above me’s decision even harder. But right now, I don’t think there’s any need for me to talk about who and what. It’s about them making some tough decisions along the way. But we’re not there yet.”
All indications are the Bruins would prefer to send a player to two to the minors, if they clear waivers, than make a deal by which they basically take back lint in exchange for a team taking salary off Boston’s hands. You can debate both sides of the situation, which Redden and Souray are dealing with this season, by which veteran players are shipped to the minors because it’s the only way to relieve their cap burden on a team. For now, the Bruins are benefiting because the coming cap crunch has almost made every game, every practice into an audition to see who stays and who goes down the road.
Ryder believes he has aced the tryout so far, even though he won’t admit he’s fighting for his right to stay in the NHL.