No longer easy to write off Ryder for an extended Boston stay

Ryder/By S. Bradley

Although this season’s supposed to be Michael Ryder’s swan song with the Bruins, his play down to this point and down the stretch could open the door for a Causeway Street encore.

With his goal and assist in the Bruins’ 3-2 win at Edmonton tonight, the veteran right winger ran his season totals to 17 goals and 36 points – most of which have been scored skating on Boston’s third line about 15 minutes a night.

Ryder’s not going to match the 27 goals he scored in his first season with Boston two years ago, but he’s now only one shy of his total for all of last season. At his current pace, he’ll score around 22 goals and total about 47 points, which would make him exactly the type of third-liner a team that relies on four lines like the Bruins needs to back its stifling defense with enough offense.

Are Ryder’s projected totals worthy of a $4 million cap hit? Of course not. But at a more reasonable cap hit in the $2-2.5 million range, Ryder could continue his continue to pull on a black-and-gold sweater.

Of course, there’s a lot of hockey left to be played. And I just don’t mean the final 20 games of the regular season. How Boston fares in the postseason will determine the fate of not just Ryder and other players, but the coaching staff and front-office personnel as well.

At the very least, Ryder has guaranteed there should be a place for him somewhere in the NHL next season, in Boston or elsewhere. That wasn’t exactly the case last summer, when he was coming off his 18-goal season (a nine-goal drop from the previous year) and seemed a prime candidate for a salary-dump trade or buyout by the Bruins. It wasn’t just the lack of production that was disappointing about Ryder’s 2009-10 season, it was the way he went about his business. He was rarely a factor in other areas of the game, and even admitted he found sources of motivation lacking during the regular season. Slightly more inspired in the postseason, he scored four goals in 13 games.

Whether it was his playoff performance or something else that convinced them, the Bruins brought back Ryder this season and took a gamble that playing in the final year of his three-year contract would bring on a Ryder renaissance. Well, the Bruins have been mostly right to retain Ryder’s services.

He’s still far too streaky for the cash he brings in and to be relied upon. His goal tonight snapped a seven-game drought. There have been a few other empty weeks throughout the season. While he was more active and even recorded three assists during his recent goal-less stretch, there have been other slumps during which he’s done an uncanny Invisible Man impersonation. So much of Ryder’s game is built around a confidence that seemingly deserts him quicker than it does other players. When he’s believing in himself and scoring goals around the net with the patience to keep the puck on his stick under pressure, though, he can bring a dimension to the Bruins that they lack otherwise.

There’s a chance now that Ryder’s combination with newcomers Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly will become this season’s answer to the ’08-09 third line of Ryder, David Krejci and Blake Wheeler. Peverley scored his game-winning goal tonight on the back end of a give-and-go with Ryder that showed three games might’ve been all that line needed to forge some magical chemistry. And like Krejci and Wheeler two years ago, Peverley and Kelly’s defensive instincts and energy seem to be rubbing off on Ryder as well.

It’s funny that after Ryder’s first year in Boston, general manager Peter Chiarelli’s decision to sign the Newfoundland native seemed like a solid purchase. Then turned into a disaster just a season later. Now Chiarelli’s still overpaying, but he’s getting exactly the type of player Ryder is – not as great as he looked two years ago nor as awful as he played last season.

With Brad Marchand due for a raise this summer as a restricted free agent, the Bruins are going to have to reallocate some cash among their forward corps. Peverley, Kelly, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell are all signed through next season, so the Bruins have plenty of veterans inked for their bottom six. Prospects Jordan Caron, Max Sauve and Jamie Arniel, in addition to others, should be ready to seriously compete for NHL playing time by next fall as well.

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