BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Bobby Ryan spent some of his summer at his offseason place in Idaho watching lots of TV.
Though not the kind you might think.
"I generally DVR all my games at my summer place and kind of sift through them throughout the summer, or at least as many as I can get to," the Ottawa Senators forward said Thursday. "I watched the last 25 games quite a few times. It made for some interesting nights on the couch, that’s for sure, watching that."
A horror show is what that was, Ryan scoring just once in his last 20 games of the regular season and getting blanked in the first four playoff games before scoring twice in a Game 5 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
But credit Ryan for not wanting to sweep the evidence under the rug. He wanted to deal with it. So what did he see when he watched the film?
"I think you started to see a player that was cheating offensively," said Ryan, a four-time 30-goal scorer while with the Anaheim Ducks. "As a goal-scorer, I think you get past that three- or four-game stretch of not scoring where you start to force things and you start to cheat a little bit. When it comes to nine games and 10 games, you’re like, 'Holy s---! How do I handle this?' What I saw is that I did a lot of swinging, I got out of the hard areas and played a lot on the perimeter. That’s kind of the cause of it."
As tough as it was, watching the games again was part of his cleansing. It was therapeutic. It was necessary in order to learn. And it was a must in order to move on.
"That’s all I can control is how I look back on it," said the 28-year-old. "I chose to use it as a learning experience this summer. I watched it over and over again, you could see my face on the ice and on the bench and the emotions. It’s something I want to forget. This is an opportunity for me to write the next chapter."
He picked up an assist on Curtis Lazar's empty-net goal Thursday night in his team’s 3-1 opening win at the Buffalo Sabres. Ryan didn’t have a huge night in the offensive end but was noticeable defensively with a few strong plays in his own zone. That was him making sure to take care of those little things.
This is a big season for him. His seven-year contract kicks in, a deal which he signed a year ago at a $7.25-million cap hit.
For a budget-conscious team, that’s a big investment.
"We know we got a good player, we got a good contract with him," veteran Senators general manager Bryan Murray said Thursday. "We think that his history is that he’s deserving of that. We just know that he’ll fulfill what he has to and he’ll be a good player. If I ever worry about the contract, I’d have a number of teams that would take it, there’s no question about that. But that’s not what we’re looking at."
Murray sat down with Ryan at the end of last season to make clear how he felt.
"It was a much different meeting than I thought we were going to have," said Ryan. "I thought stuff was going to be thrown at me and all that. But he was going to give me an opportunity to come back and prove that I was worth the contract he gave me."
It’s clear as day that the chat with Murray had an impact.
"We had a great meeting," said Ryan. "He said he could tell what I was going through. He said, 'Go watch it, learn from it, have a hell of a summer and come back in great shape.' Everything he said I feel like I accomplished it throughout the summer.
"This summer I put some size on and hopefully added a little explosiveness. I feel much better."
In the meeting, Murray also had to balance the cold truth -- that the club felt he wasn’t in as good a shape as he should have been -- with a bit of love.
"The main point was, we just want him to be as good as he can be," said the GM. "You cheat yourself when you’re not in top form. Our expectations aren’t that he has to be most fit guy in the league. But he has to give himself a chance to be ready to start the year. Just generally told him, 'Get yourself in position where you come to camp and feel ready to play hockey.'
"I think he did work this summer. The biggest thing with Bobby is that he beats himself up, like a lot of goals-scorers. I’ve had a number of goal-scorers who think they have to do it every night and when they don’t score, they let it build up on them. Then they’re pressing and before too long you’re not as good as you can be."
The thing about Ryan is that he cares, deeply. Some players might say, 'Hey, I’ve got my contract now, who cares?' But not this guy. The thing is, his level of passion can cut both ways.
"It can be both a blessing and a curse at times," said Ryan. "Especially when you’re wrapped up in it and you don’t handle it all the best. I don’t think I did last year. I was frustrated. I wasn’t lashing out or being a distraction by any means, but you just go quiet, you get away from everything and it makes you stressed. That’s where I was at."
As his late-season drought dragged on, the media began to ask him if he was playing hurt, about the lowest of lows given that he in fact was not injured. But Ryan was classy through it all with reporters, never losing his cool and dealing with it respectfully. Again, that tells you about the person.
"That comes with the territory, I understand that," Ryan said of the questioning. "But it got frustrating at times when you can’t give an answer, you can’t put a finger on what the hell is going on. There were a lot of tough days with the media but it was fair. When you’re not playing well, it’s their right to call you on it."
Ryan got a lot of advice and support from family, friends and fellow players throughout the offseason. All of it was helpful.
As was a conversation with a Hall of Famer who also happens to be a family friend.
"Late last year Bobby Clarke told me to kind of abandon the game that I was playing and get mean, get to the hard areas, do the dirty work, get the net and whack away," said Ryan. "That’s what I’m going to try and do. His philosophy and approach is so simple and old-school and you can relate to it."
Bobby Ryan’s biggest enemy is Bobby Ryan. If he can control his inner-critic this season, he’ll be just fine.
There’s a lot riding on it.