After he wasn’t moved at the trade deadline in 2013, Roberto Luongo famously complained that his massive contract was an anchor that was forcing him to stay in Vancouver.
“My contract sucks,” Luongo said during a press conference on April 3, 2013. “I’d scrap it if I could.”
At the time, Luongo had nine more years left on his deal with a cap hit of $5.3 million, leaving the Canucks with very few options for their star goaltender. It appeared as though star player and hockey club were locked into an untenable situation that neither side was happy about.
The Ottawa Senators might be able to relate to the Canucks’ predicament from six years ago after making Bobby Ryan a healthy scratch on Sunday night against the San Jose Sharks.
Ryan – who has two more years after this season with an annual cap hit of $7.5 million – is essentially a non-moveable asset for the Sens. When asked on Tuesday morning if he could relate to Luongo’s comment from six years ago – that his contract was essentially serving as a boat anchor – Ryan stopped well short of complaining about his situation.
“I think my contract is okay. It works for me,” Ryan said with a hearty laugh to a handful of reporters.
After trying to lighten the mood with a joke, the 32-year-old forward continued to answer the question in more serious manner.
“Everybody’s got an agent and they did their job. You can laugh about it all you want. Obviously, everything gets magnified because of it and I understand that,” Ryan explained. “And have I lived up to it? Yes, at times, to portions of the contract, and to some portions of the contract, absolutely not. And I understand that. But I’m not going to say it sucks.”
Ryan has a full no-movement clause with his contract that he signed in the fall of 2014, which means the Senators can’t even put him down in the American Hockey League without his approval. For now it appears the Senators are stuck with Ryan, who sat after seeing just 7:59 of ice time in a Friday night loss to the Islanders.
Ryan has just one goal and four points in 10 games this season, averaging just 12:36 minutes of ice time per night. He has bounced around everywhere from Ottawa’s top line to their fourth unit, juggling centremen along the way.
Senators’ head coach D.J. Smith sat down with Ryan on Sunday morning to have what the forward characterized as a “candid” session to inform him he was being removed from the lineup.
“Just be better,” Ryan said when asked what the crux of Smith’s message was to him. “I just took what he said and thought how it could work for me. The ultimate message is just to be better.”
Ryan admits he was frustrated with the decision, but tried to keep his emotions hidden from his teammates when he returned to the arena on Sunday evening.
“I was sad for the day and for a few hours, and then you kind of realize you can’t be glum. You kind of have to get back to work and put on a good face on for the guys. You have to do right by them,” Ryan said. “You can go home and be mad and curse the coach, curse the GM and curse whoever you think you need to. But it’s not going to get you anywhere. So I’ve decided to be proactive and take it as a lesson to be better.”
Smith says he was ultimately happy with the veteran forward’s response in his first full practice with the team on Tuesday.
“Bobby was good today. Skated hard and worked. He came here and he wants to get back going,” Smith told reporters in his Tuesday press conference. “We’ve got a whole week ahead of us and hopefully everything goes to plan, and when he gets his chance, he’s ready to go.”
Smith stopped short of saying Ryan would return to the lineup for Ottawa’s next game against the Boston Bruins on Saturday. The club is currently down to only 12 healthy forwards as and Ryan skated alongside Mikkel Boedker and Scott Sabourin on the fourth line on Tuesday.
There’s a chance the club could recall a forward later this week or have Artem Anisimov return to the lineup – with either of those scenarios making it unlikely that Ryan returns against the Bruins.
Now that Smith has crossed the threshold and made Ryan a healthy scratch, the precedent has been set for this to happen with some degree of regularity in the future. Ryan was scratched once for a game under Guy Boucher in January of 2017, but that was believed to be for disciplinary reasons. The benching under Smith represents a new era for both the player and the club, as there appears to be an awkward fit between an aging star and a rebuilding team.
Ryan says he saw the writing on the wall over the past few months as the club has jettisoned many star and veteran players in favour of younger prospects.
“The young guys are pushing. And I knew coming in they were going to push. And they’ve earned the right to be seen more,” Ryan added. “I would expect that. With where we are in the rebuild, I expect to see young guys in and out. My job is to push them day in and day out and to also keep them out of the lineup from that regard. So it’s kind of a tough spot, but I’m obligated to do right by these guys.”
Ryan – a four-time 30-goal scorer in Anaheim – has never even reached the 25-goal plateau in any of his six full seasons in Ottawa. His most productive stretch came during Ottawa’s unexpected run to the conference finals in 2017, when he scored six goals and collected 15 points in 19 games. But that limited postseason success in the spring of 2017 failed to have any traction, as Ryan has scored just 27 goals in his past 150 regular-season games.
“Ultimately, all you can do in this situation is be patient. Be a teammate and root for the guys. It’s frustrating, obviously,” Ryan said.