Solving the Ryder Riddle

He netted back-to-back 30-goal seasons, in a league hell-bent on power plays, on a team with the league’s premier power play. With so many dollars signs coming his way on July 1st, Michael Ryder had pretty much everything going for him at the onset of the 2007-08 season. All Ryder had to do was continue to do what he does best: score goals. Then virtually every NHL team would be trying to sign the Bonavista, Newfoundland native to a lucrative long-term deal.

Unfortunately, Ryder has hit a wall this season for the Montreal Canadiens, and in 26 games has recorded just three goals. What is wrong with Michael Ryder? That is a question, that Habs head coach Guy Carbonneau must be asking himself every night.

Most people wouldn’t label Ryder a pure sniper; rather, he’s a shooter who thrives on the power play. Here’s a closer look at his career numbers…

Michael Ryder’s Stats
(as of December 2nd, 2007)
2003-2004: 25 goals (10 PP), 215 shots, 11.6%
2005-2006: 30 goals (18 PP), 243 shots, 12.3%
2006-2007: 30 goals (17 PP), 221 shots, 13.6%
2007-2008: 3 goals (1 PP), 74 shots, 4.1%

Of Ryder’s career 88 goals, more than half have come with the man advantage (46). So if Montreal still has the best power play in the league, why does Ryder only have three goals? There are many answers to this question…

First and foremost, Montreal’s power play has changed. With the absence of Sheldon Souray, Ryder no longer sets up in the same position he was accustomed to the past two seasons, at the top of the circles on the left wing across from Souray, where he would be wide open when teams overplayed to Souray’s side. This year he has shifted to the high slot/front side of the net and is more of a decoy for the back-door pass to the left point. When he gets the puck he does not have as much time to shoot as he did in year’s past.

Secondly, this season has been a coming out party for Chris Higgins. Second on the team to Alex Kovalev with 10 goals, Higgins is starting to become Saku Koivu’s go-to man on the top line. You can just look at Higgins’s shot total; he leads the team in shots per game at 3.5, while Ryder sits below 3 shots per game. There’s only so much puck to go around.

Third, each of Ryder’s first three seasons in the NHL he averaged 16 minutes a game, and four minutes of that on the power play. This season however Ryder is at 15 minutes a game, where has the minute gone? That’s right the power play, Ryder averages only three minutes per game with the man- advantage.

That all said, Michael Ryder still seems to be lacking something in his play. Watching him explode some nights for 13 shots against Boston on November 17th or play down on the third line on November 30th and play under nine minutes against the Devils in New Jersey, makes most Montreal fans wonder ‘What could we get for him in a trade?”

Is there a solution to Ryder’s drought?

Ryder has always been a streaky goal scorer. Last year at this time, through the first two months, Ryder only had six goals. Ryder also scored half of his 30 in the last two months of the season. So maybe there is nothing to worry about.

Coach Carbonneau tried something that was intriguing against the Nashville Predators, putting Ryder with Mikhail Grabovski and Andrei Kostitsyn. Playing with two of the fastest Habs appeared to work early on, because it forced Ryder to use his skates and earn his time with the puck; the line came up with no points, but produced many scoring chances. It will be interesting to see if Carbonneau continues with this combination.

If Carbonneau finds a solution and can get his two-time 30-goal scorer kick-started, then he might end up losing him via trade or to a big contract offer in the off-season. But if he can’t, then next summer Ryder shouldn’t expect his phone to be ringing off the hook.


One Response to “Solving the Ryder Riddle”

    February 21, 2008 at 1:16 pm #

    While, you have brought up some very strong points, there is one major issue you are missing. I truly believe this is the key to why Ryder is not scoring as he usually does. Ryder was told to try and work on his defensive skills over the off season.

    This is evident if you take a look at this +/-. This year he is sitting a -1 rating while the year before he was sitting at a -25 rating. As well Ryder hasn’t taken the offensive chances that he usually does, while it’s true his point production is down, his defensive game has improved by leaps and bounds. It also doesn’t help the fact that Carbonneau continues to shuffle the lines he plays on.

    Another factor which plays quite large is that of how his former line is playing, both Higgins and Koivu have cooled off and the 3 of them together can’t seem to get anything going.

    While I think Ryder’s offensive presence is missed, fans and the media need to look at the bigger picture, he may not be scoring but he is playing a more defensively sound game.