In what felt like a package deal with Bill Peters being hired and the Carolina – Calgary blockbuster trade at the draft, Derek Ryan was the fourth and final piece to come over in the Raleigh Invasion. The cap hit and term were questioned immediately after, but only a few weeks into the 2018-19 season, fans turned in a positive way to embrace the well-traveled veteran center.
2018-19 season summary
The first month of the season wasn’t forgiving for Ryan. Struggling to produce and just hovering around 50% at 5v5 in shot share, the Flames’ bottom six at times felt disjointed and out of sync. Through the month of November, Ryan turned it on to another level leading the Flames’ forwards in shot-share (60.77% for November 2018) and somehow becoming a secondary power play mainstay which was a completely unexpected phenomenon.
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That momentum that started in November helped turn a corner both on-ice impact and fan perception. Ryan and linemate Garnet Hathaway spent the bulk of the season together forming somewhat of a grind line, but an effective one at that. The two, with Ryan at center helped insulate a variety of the youth and rotating cast of linemates while giving the Flames a somewhat of a backup shutdown line behind the 3M / Mikael Backlund’s line.
Despite the fact that he saw scant usage on the penalty kill in Carolina, under Peters and Ryan Huska, Ryan saw an increase from 29:37 PK minutes in 17-18 to an incredible 155:16. His prominence at 4v5 gave the Flames the ability to stagger and balance three different PK units to varying levels of success.
Ryan’s first season in Calgary was really everything you expected to be. Peters threw him into much more difficult starts than expected and he still managed to be a net-positive in driving play. In a lot of ways he’s an unsung hero of this season.
Compared to last season
In his second full-time season with the Hurricanes, Ryan saw a bit more usage than one would expect. This was a cautioned tale by many Hurricanes fans when the news broke that Ryan would sign in Calgary. Under Peters and the rest of the Hurricanes staff in 17-18, Ryan produced at a higher-end ‘3C’ while seeing two minutes on average a game on the Canes’ power play.
Unsuspectingly enough, Ryan was a valuable part of the team – regards of the criticism of his usage at times – providing a 9.4 GAR (goals above replacement) and attributing to 1.7 WAR (wins above replacement) for the Hurricanes last season. The fact that a then 31 year old forward provided this value was and is an inkling of the type of player he is: a player that likely deserved some sort of a NHL shot years ago.
Unfortunately hindsight is 20/20 and even if the Canes struggled to make the post-season last year, the success Ryan had in his tenure in Raleigh did lead to some optimism that a fair contract for what he offers would likely bring quantifiable value to an organization who signed the journeyman.
What about next season?
Hopefully Peters gives him an incremental boost in ice-time; not a huge boost but just enough to give him a more of a ‘3C’ role. Ryan after he adjusted to his role within the Flames this season was everything the Flames have needed in a ‘3C’, but was never given the title. That of course went to Mark Jankowski.
Ryan shown that he can be a capable secondary option when Backlund isn’t on ice, specifically that he isn’t going to hurt you by keeping him on the ice. The big question is whether or not this fountain of youth that has maintained his brief, but honestly impressive – relative to his role on a team – NHL career continues.
Ryan will turn 33 this December and his remaining $6.25M in salary ($3.125M cap hit) isn’t something many (or any) teams would take on if his 2019-20 season starts off rough or goes through a prolonged period of mediocrity. The caveat (and a positive, for now at least) is he doesn’t struggle in a ‘4C’ role either. Factor in some brief, but controlled special teams usage and the Flames have a chance at extracting more value out of a player that has one of the more remarkable career arcs in modern hockey.