The news that Bobby Ryan is undergoing season-ending surgery did not come as a complete surprise.
Earlier this week, head coach Paul MacLean confirmed that Ryan had been dealing with a nagging injury since November – our first tangible clue that the winger has not been 100 per cent healthy all season.
But for the past few weeks, the whispers had been growing louder and louder that Ryan was playing hurt. When the club returned to practice after the Olympic break, the winger took a couple of maintenance days that raised a few eyebrows.
Now that the club has confirmed he was playing for the past four months with a sports hernia injury, it forces us to reassess our opinion of Ryan's first season in Ottawa. In a strange twist, every player involved in the massive Ducks-Senators trade from last summer suffered a significant injury this season. Jakob Silfverberg had a broken hand, Stefan Noesen tore the ACL in his knee and now Ryan is done with the sports hernia injury. (The Ducks may want to order some bubble wrap to protect their first round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft that they will receive from Ottawa).
When he was famously left off the Team USA roster for the Olympics, many suggested that Ryan was crushed by the bad news and went into a prolonged slump. He scored just two goals in 12 games in the month of January and looked like a shadow of himself at times. Certainly, the Team USA snub hurt him on a personal level, but it's rather obvious that the physical pain of a sports hernia injury was the bigger factor for his declining numbers.
Ryan's limited ice time was also a source of controversy in this market, as fans and media openly questioned MacLean's deployment of his No. 1 sniper. He was taken off a unit with Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur and was given third-line minutes instead. When the Sens were swept in Alberta earlier this month, Ryan played fewer than 15 minutes on each night – causing some to wonder aloud if there was a rift between star player and coach.
In reality, the reduced ice time was likely the result of his nagging injury. In a statement to the media on Thursday, general manager Bryan Murray indicated that Ryan tried to play through the injury and doesn't appear to be concerned about how he was used by MacLean.
"I know there were some times in games that he felt like he couldn't contribute very much but he stayed on the ice as required by the coaching staff and tried very hard to be a big factor for our team," Murray said. "I think he was and obviously we like that kind of person and want to treat him right in return."
If you look at Ryan's on-ice production from this season (time on ice to produce a point), you can see a significant drop-off once the calendar flipped to December:
||Time on ice/point
Ryan's struggles were a red flag for many Ottawa fans, who were concerned about his lack of productivity and compete level down the stretch. With a contract set to expire at the end of next season, there were more than a few fans who were suggesting it was time to move on from the 26-year-old winger.
But now that we have a clear picture of Ryan's health, it's a little more accurate to say that his first season was not a complete disaster. The fact that he led this team in goal-scoring with 23 despite the injury is fairly impressive. Considering the recovery time from this injury is about six weeks, GM Bryan Murray says there is every reason to believe that Ryan will come into training camp next season ready to return to his 30-goal form.
"Well, he certainly started very, very well. He shoots the puck awfully well, he scored some goals, his line obviously carried the team early on. He was a big part of that," Murray said. "I think after the hernia started to get aggravated a little bit, he seemed to shoot the puck a bit less. Overall, very happy and satisfied with his overall play and we know he'll be a real contributor going forward."
That last comment from the general manager seems like the one that carries the most weight moving into this summer. Nobody is certain if the Sens will lock up Ryan with a long-term extension in the coming months, but one thing is clear: this organization hasn't soured on him after a disappointing season in which he played hurt.