Why losing Bobby Ryan is such a blow for the Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

Losing Bobby Ryan for the rest of the season is a double blow for the Detroit Red Wings.

Ryan had been an outstanding veteran leader and a top-six forward with a knack for offense. For the man tasked with stoking the rebuild  general manager Steve Yzerman  Ryan had been a moveable piece to flip at Monday’s trade deadline for a draft pick.

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Instead, Ryan will spend the last month on the sidelines, felled by an upper-body injury that has sidelined him since March 28. Coach Jeff Blashill would not reveal specifics, but said Ryan has been nagged by back problems and that surgery is a possibility.

It was a lousy bit of news amid a challenging season.

“Bobby was disappointed, I was disappointed for him,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “I think Bobby has been around a long time, so he can handle things. But certainly he’s disappointed.

“I liked having Bobby on our team. I think he made our team better and he was a good example for our young guys. He’s been a good leader in our locker room, a good example guy, and a guy who can score goals. We’ll miss lots of what Bobby brings and I feel really bad for him that his season is cut short.”

Ryan, 34, has seven goals and seven assists in 33 games. Those numbers are comparable to Kyle Palmieri, who had 17 points in 34 games when he was part of a package deal — along with Travis Zajac (18 points, 33 games) — earlier this week that sent the two forwards from New Jersey to the New York Islanders for a first-round pick, a fourth-round pick and two minor-leaguers. Both of those veterans have salary cap hits around $5 million, whereas Ryan is a bargain at $1 million. That could have led to a good deal for Yzerman from teams seeking reinforcement for a playoff run.

Ryan showed off his scoring prowess with four goals his first three games. Even when he wasn’t producing, he consistently was in position to score, making smart plays and going to the net.

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“Bobby came in early, did a really good job,” Blashill said. “He’s had a nagging back injury through much of the year. Those are ones that don’t necessarily just go away. It probably hurt his ability to keep rolling.”

Neither Yzerman nor Ryan were available to comment, but last month Ryan said that if he were traded at the deadline, he’d like to return.

Yzerman signed Ryan last October, seeing the discarded former second-overall pick as a good supporting cast member in the rebuild. Ryan had been bought out last season by the Ottawa Senators, and was looking for a place to reboot his career.

He wasn’t willing to sign just anywhere, though, and his reaching out to Dylan Larkin before signing was part of what impressed the Wings.

“Bobby wanted to know if this was a group that had kind of thrown in the towel, or if this was a group that really wanted to get better,” Blashill said. “I know when he talked with guys, he was pretty convinced this was a group that wanted to get better. One of the reasons he’s liked it here is because it’s a group that wants to get better. It’s a group that’s grinding and wants a better tomorrow.  That doesn’t always manifest itself in great outings, but it is a group that cares, that wants to learn. It’s a group that wants to grow and Bobby has really appreciated that and being a part of the process of getting to a better tomorrow.”

If recovery goes well — Blashill said the injury is not considered career-ending — Ryan could fit into the next season’s process on another one-year deal in the same pay range. Younger players, including Dylan Larkin and Filip Zadina, have raved about Ryan’s influence, and he’s a good stop-gap measure for a team working through a rebuild.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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