One of the few players who was heavily anticipated to become a Vegas Golden Knight did not – Bobby Ryan. Despite an above-average playoff performance in the Senators’ heartbreaking Conference Final run, Ryan has vastly under-performed relative to his contract. Instead of coordinating a deal to unload that contract to Vegas, they instead lost Marc Methot, perhaps the second best defenseman on the team in that Cinderella story. Methot’s contract was not perfect, to be sure, but Ryan’s deal still looms large over the team for years.
It should be noted that Ryan has been a consistent 50+ point producer prior to this season, where he tallied only 25 through 62 contests. He’s been on pace for over 50 every year since he was a rookie. That said, his fall from grace in 2016-17was concerning and dramatic. His puck control seriously declined, his decision making faltered, and his production took a nosedive. With only 12 goals, and coming off a hot post-season, the time was ripe for GM Pierre Dorion to take advantage of Vegas’ unique situation and rid himself of a bad contract. Earning $7.25 MM AAV for the next five seasons, Ryan is the 36th highest paid forward in the league, and second-highest on the payroll behind Erik Karlsson.
For those who believe such an arrangement could not have been worked out, merely look at some of the contracts Vegas did take on. The essentially retired David Clarkson’s $5.25 MM for the next 3 seasons was shipped out at the price of a first and a 2020 second. The perennially concussed Mikhail Grabovski was dealt for a similar package, which also protected some of the Islanders’ players. Vegas also didn’t shy away from taking veteran players with value – they selected James Neal (29 years old) from Nashville as well as David Perron from the Blues (29 years old). Certainly, with a little encouragement, George McPhee might have entertained the possibility of Ryan as a Knight. The price may have been steep, but Karlsson is in the prime of his career, while many players are looking for raises in the immediate future. Clearing Ryan’s albatross off the books may have gone a long way towards building toward a consistent contender.
Ultimately, Dorion decided against unloading a bloated contract in hopes that Ryan’s post-season revival was no mirage. With the UFA crop available, it’s difficult to blame the management for doubling down on the struggling winger. Five roster players will be UFA after this season, including Craig Anderson and Kyle Turris, while Mark Stone (RFA) has earned a raise. Karlsson will then be due a raise for 2019-20, as will five other forwards. The team will need to rely upon cost-effective ELC players and bargain contracts to continue holding pace with the rest of the Atlantic division. Only time will tell whether the Ryan decision was the correct one.