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The Case for Bobby Ryan on the Leafs next season

Bobby Ryan’s contract is perhaps one of the most problematic in the NHL right now. That’s no secret. The 31-year-old forward is locked in for 7.25-million AAV for the next four years, and in the  past few seasons he’s looked like a shell of his old self – the lone bright spot in recent memory being his strong run in the 2017 playoffs when the Sens made that improbable run.

He was on a mission for those few months, but otherwise his time in Ottawa has been nearly a downright disaster. His goal scoring has dried up, he seems to break his hand on a weekly basis, and he’s become one of the major scapegoats for the fans in this city. All of that has led to the team reportedly willing to shoot themselves in the foot in an Erik Karlsson deal by strapping Ryan to the trade and getting out from under his contract. It’s that bad.

But – and this is going to seem like an extreme take – I don’t think Bobby Ryan is all that terrible. I think the Sens are, and I think his time there has been a wreck, no doubt. He has nothing to give that franchise. But he might not be completely finished yet, and for that reason, any team making a deal to get him and Karlsson might not be in such a tough bind right off the hop. There could be some value there. Again, he’s had two very rough seasons under Boucher, but he’s only just turned 31, and we’ve seen other players (ahem, Eric Staal) written off, only to bounce back. I think sometimes we’re too quick to put the knife in.

That’s a lot of fancy colours to look at, but essentially what we’re seeing here is that, despite the nagging injuries and a tough slog on production, Ryan can still pull the puck offensively. His possession numbers aren’t good, but Ottawa has been a trainwreck in that regard the last couple years anyway. I think in a more freewheeling, offense-friendly system, he could get back to some of his scoring ways. I know of a team like that just four hours down the 401.

The assumption to this point has been that any team that brings in the pair of Karlsson and Ryan will likely do it with intention of buying Ryan out. For argument’s sake, let’s say that team is the Leafs. Buying out Ryan now would keep a cap hit on the books for eight (!) years, the first four at a 3.58AAV and the latter four at 1.83AAV. That’s a difficult one to stomach for any team.

But since buyouts are simply 2/3 the salary stretched over double the term (while considering signing bonuses), each year you wait to do it obviously saves you one down the line. Push Ryan’s buyout to next season and he’s got six years left (a three-and-three situation similar to the numbers we have above), and so on. If there’s any talent and drive left to squeeze out of this player, you want to do it.

We’re looking at this from a Leafs perspective, but the Vegas Knights apparently had a deal nearly completed to do exactly what we’re proposing: Bring on Karlsson and Ryan together. For Toronto to make a splash that big, they’d likely need to involve a third team. The question about Ryan becomes, simply, can you salvage a year or two out of him and get some value back before buying him out. I think for the 2018-19 season it’s a no-brainer for a team with the room to do it.

Making an earth-shattering deal to get a player like Karlsson with Ryan in tow would certainly qualify as not holding back. From there I think that given Toronto’s heavy focus on sports science and recovery, a head coach whose calling card is being a motivator, and the fact the team is trending up in a big way, it all could come together to get Ryan back on the scoresheet the way he used to. He’d be one of a few major hurdles in putting together a deal to bring in a true star on defence, but I’m not totally sold that he himself is finished just yet. At least not for another year.

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  • Hugh Allan

    But, I don’t want either Ryan or Karlsson on the Leafs taking up close to $17 – $18 million of the Leafs cap once Karlsson is resigned.
    This does not appear to be good use of limited cap space to me.
    Especially taking into account that Matthews, Marner and Nylander are anticipated to be taking another $26 – $27 million in cap space.
    That’s 50% of the cap on 5 players?
    Again, seems like poor management of a teams cap!

    • Jroc

      I agree as far as a hard no to Bobby Ryan at his full cap hit. I am also very weary of Karlssons legs going, I don’t think he will age well, but the greater point is unused cap space doesn’t score any goals, if the iron is hot we need to strike on a game changer

  • getrdone

    I guess this is the slow time in trying to get a conversation going about the Leafs, but please don’t put Bobby Ryan into the conversation. To do a buyout will cost the club for years to come and for what? To get Karlsson? He is not worth it and right now the Leafs have cap room, but in a couple of years that will be taken up with Matthews, Marner and the next ones.