NHL

Numbers Game: Habs, Stars swap veteran wingers

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Scott Cullen
2/26/2013 9:20:47 PM
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The Dallas Stars traded one of their top scorers and his expiring contract to the Montreal Canadiens for a power forward who has struggled so far this season.

Numbers Game breaks down the Michael Ryder-Erik Cole trade.

The Canadiens Get: RW Michael Ryder and a third-round pick.

Ryder, 32, returns to Montreal, where he had some productive seasons, twice hitting the 30-goal plateau in his first four NHL campaigns. Ryder has only topped 30 goals once in the ensuing five years and that was last season, his first in Dallas but, generally, he's been a solid source of secondary scoring throughout his career.

With six goals and 14 points in 19 games this season, Ryder was tied for the Stars' team lead in scoring at the time of the trade (with Jamie Benn, who had 14 points in 14 games) and Ryder's six power play points led the squad.

Through the small sample of 19 games this season, Ryder has enjoyed the strongest possession numbers of his career, though his offensive focus means that he has had the benefit of starting 56% of his shifts in the offensive zone. He is what he is -- a finisher who gets himself in good position to score goals, but doesn't offer speed or a physical component to his game.

Ryder has spent much of the season skating with Derek Roy and Loui Eriksson on the Stars' second line, but also spent time recently with Cody Eakin and rookie Reilly Smith (www.leftwinglock.com). After playing a career-high 17:23 per game for the Stars last season, Ryder sits at 16:22 per game this year, the second-highest mark of his career.

If Ryder can provide complementary offence for the Canadiens, that's great, but he's a low-risk addition since his contract, which carries a $3.5-million cap hit (www.capgeek.com) expires at the end of the season.

Getting a third-round pick thrown into the deal is pretty sweet for the Habs. It only brings a 20-25% chance of yielding an NHL player, but that's a decent card to play in addition to gaining financial flexibility due to the savings on Cole's contract.

The Stars Get: RW Erik Cole.

Cole is a 34-year-old winger who scored a career-best 35 goals and tied a career-high with 61 points last season, playing primarily with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty on the Canadiens' most productive line. Cole didn't have as much success this season, managing six points in 19 games and going through a nine-game point drought. Recently, he had been skating with rookie Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller.

While Cole's production hasn't been ideal this year, there are some factors at play that could turn help Cole's season turn around.

For one thing, Cole hasn't been very fortunate around the net, finishing just 7.3% of his shots on goal, a career-low and just over half of last year's shooting percentage (14.5%).

Secondly, Cole has been playing nearly three minutes less per game (from 18:32 last season to a career-low 15:39 per game this season).

Like Ryder, Cole has started the majority (55.7%) of his shifts in the offensive zone, but has also been dominant in terms of puck possession, and when a player is controlling play, but not putting up points, there is a decent chance that the production will come around, particularly from a player that has a track record of offensive success.

In Cole's case, he has five seasons with at least 20 goals and five seasons with at least 50 points, including each of the last two years, so if he develops some chemistry with new linemates in Big D, and gets a couple minutes more of ice time per game, it's reasonable enough to believe that Cole's production will improve in his new surroundings.

Cole is signed for two more seasons, at a cap hit of $4.5-million per season, after the current campaign and with the Stars poised to still have four forwards headed for unrestricted free agency (Jaromir Jagr, Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy and Eric Nystrom), Cole should be expected to play a prominent role in Dallas for the next couple seasons.

While taking on Cole's contract might have been reason enough to not include any deal sweeteners, like a third-round draft pick, the Stars are making a classic buy-low maneuver, in the hopes that they come up with a top-six winger, even though he hasn't scored like one so far this season.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Erik Cole (Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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