Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin saw room for improvement on his Eastern Conference-leading roster. So, he did something about it.
After bringing back head coach Michel Therrien and defenceman Francis Bouillon last summer, Bergevin repatriated another former Hab, acquiring winger Michael Ryder from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Erik Cole on Tuesday evening.
“He’s a guy that’s going to help our power play. He’s a sniper, he’s a guy that can score goals,” said Bergevin, who also gets a 2013 third round draft pick in the deal, on a conference call. “Also, there’s the business side when you look at a player – he gives us the flexibility, as far as the cap goes, this year and moving forward.”
Currently at $70.2 million, the NHL’s cap ceiling is slated to drop to $64.3 million beginning next season. Ryder, 32, is in the final year of a two-year deal carrying with a $3.5 million per year cap hit. Cole, 34, had two more seasons following the current one on his deal, at a $4.5 million cap hit.
That space, together with the elimination of Scott Gomez’s pact from the books, leaves Bergevin with room to manoeuvre in the summer when it comes to his own players to re-sign or the free agent market.
But while he acknowledged that salaries inevitably play a role in all hockey moves these days, the GM was insistent that this was more about the here and now on the ice.
“This player is a player that’s helping us right away. He’s a player that’s producing (and) that has produced,” Bergevin said. “Nothing against Erik but this guy is going to help us in areas that I feel we need (help).”
A three-time 30-plus goal-scorer – and five-time 25-plus goal-scorer – Ryder led the Stars with a career-high 35 goals last season. He’s gotten off to a good start this year, with six goals and eight assists to his credit through 19 games played. His 14 points tie him with Max Pacioretty for the team lead in scoring while goal total slots him second on the team behind Tomas Plekanec.
Cole, who had to lift his no-trade clause for the deal to get done, had a slow start to the season. Signs of last year’s personal-best 35-goal campaign were seemingly nowhere to be found. Yet despite Cole’s early season struggles (three goals, three assists in 19 games played), the Stars aren’t too concerned.
“Erik Cole is a top-six power forward who skates well, adds size, and is under contract for the next two years,” Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said in a statement. “We thank Michael Ryder for his contributions and look forward to what Erik will bring to our group.”
Selected in the eighth round, 216th overall, in the 1998 draft, Ryder enjoyed a strong rookie season with the Canadiens in 2003-04, earning him a Calder Trophy nomination. He played four seasons in Montreal before joining the Bruins as a free agent in the summer of 2008. He spent the next three years in Boston, capping it off with a Stanley Cup in 2011.
There have been numerous changes in the locker room and to the Canadiens’ front office since Ryder’s last stint but he won’t be without familiar faces. Five teammates that were on the roster back then are with the team today: Plekanec, Bouillon, Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Carey Price.
“Salut Erik. Gonna miss ya brother,” Price tweeted. “Welcome back Ryds!”
“I wanna wish my good buddy Erik Cole all the best in Dallas!!!! Truly one of the good guys in the game today #beauty #enjoythesun,” Gorges wrote on his account. “Welcome back #Ryds great to have ya back!!!”
The trade came with the Canadiens leading the Northeast Division and the Eastern Conference by a single point. Yet even with his team’s current success, Bergevin isn’t shutting the door on future deals with the league’s deadline just over a month away.
“Always, always, always looking to make your team better,” he said when asked if he’ll keep an open mind between now and April 3. “Always.”