Two years ago, Derek Ryan had a great season for the Flames. Playing alongside Garnet Hathaway and Andrew Mangiapane for a good portion of the year, Ryan gave the team a legitimate fourth line that was at times a real weapon for the team.
Last season, his production dropped slightly, although not significantly, and Ryan seemed to play a less prominent role on the team. Especially with the emergence of Sam Bennett at centre in the playoffs, Ryan seems destined for fourth line duty again this year.
The Flames are also up against the cap. They need to get creative and open up some space if they want to make some changes without trading the big guns. The options are fairly limited. It is unlikely that any team would take the Flames buyouts off their hands, especially given the cap situation. Even if they did, the cost to Calgary would be so great it probably wouldn’t be worth it. So if the club wants to get off some salary, it will need to ship out one of their roster players who can actually contribute to a new team.
At this point, it is unlikely that any of the big names will be traded. Either the Flames want to hang on to them, or they cannot possibly trade them, like a player such as Milan Lucic. On the back end, the team is already thin and likely won’t trade a blue liner, unless it is for an impact player up front, perhaps someone like Kyle Palmieri? That leaves Ryan as a player who has some value on the ice, yet makes a salary that the Flames could really use off their books.
It is also important to note that I don’t think it makes sense to trade Ryan without making other moves. Ryan is a good player who is a net positive for the team. The question is whether they can turn his salary into something better for next season, be it a free agent, or by allowing them to get more creative in a trade.
But what would it take? What are some options for a potential trade? Let’s take a look at three teams that might make sense for the Flames to call.
The reason here is simple. Ottawa is currently under the cap floor, and will need to spend to get above it. They have some restricted free agents to sign, including Connor Brown, Chris Tierney, and Nick Paul . However none of those guys are expected to land huge contracts, so the Senators will be able to take on some more salary, especially for a single year.
Does that make Ryan an option in the nation’s capital? It really depends on how willing Ottawa is to give a roster spot to a 33-year-old. Ryan is a good player, but the Senators might want a younger player to take his minutes and develop. Conversely, Ryan seems to be a popular figure in the Calgary locker room, and could be a good mentor for some of the young guys on the roster.
COVID-19 will also play a role in this decision. What will NHL teams do with their prospects who may or may not be ready? Do they let them continue to play in their respective leagues? Or do they bring them to the show in hopes that they can contribute. Ottawa has some big decisions, especially with two top five picks this year. If Ottawa decides not to rush those guys to the big club, then maybe Ryan makes sense.
That brings up the question of price. It is likely that the Flames would have to attach another sweetener to Ryan to make Ottawa take the deal, otherwise why would Ottawa entertain it at all? Besides, a team like Ottawa is not looking to get any older. Perhaps a late round pick like a fifth or sixth rounder would be enough for the Senators to take Ryan.
The Flames would need something back that doesn’t have any salary cap effects, so a minor prospect or even later round pick. Ottawa might not want to take a deal like this, but the idea of finding a team that has cap space and working with them is one worth exploring for Calgary.
Buffalo is an interesting case because they have a lot of cap space, but they also might be looking for another body or two to help up front. Their first three centre spots are taken by Jack Eichel, Eric Staal, and Cody Eakin. Ryan could slot in as either a fourth line centre, or even a third line if Ralph Kruger wants to play Eakin as more of a crash and bang fourth line.
The risk to Buffalo is low, because Ryan is an expiring contract after next season, so if he doesn’t work out they can let him go after the year and go after more free agents. But make no mistake, there is a real sense of urgency in Buffalo, especially with ongoing speculation that Eichel is frustrated and the single year addition of Taylor Hall.
Whether the Sabres establish themselves as contenders or not is uncertain, but their moves so far suggest they’ll at least try. If someone like Ryan can help the team win, then there could be a trade. Buffalo’s fourth line centre is currently slotted to be Curtis Lazar. Surely Ryan would be an upgrade.
Buffalo also might be willing to part with at least a lower end draft pick with the pressure to win. If Calgary can get some draft capital and salary space, then I think it’s worth it.
This one might be a stretch, but David Poile may be someone feeling the pressure to set the tone with his team. The Predators need scoring at all levels. It is unclear if they are trying to rebuild or trying to stay in the fight, but if they are willing to take on some more salary, Ryan could help them score in the bottom six.
Their centre depth took a hit with as the organization moved on from Kyle Turris after a few down seasons, as well as trading away Nick Bonino for Luke Kunin along with some 2020 pick exchanges with the Minnesota Wild. Behind Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, the Predators have options for centermen in players like Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok, or even Kunin or Yakov Trenin, but it would require some shifting of the lines to make it all work.
Bringing in Ryan can be a good idea for the Predators as he can still be a reliable producer and provide Nashville with stability to play around with their forward lines. Again, Ryan isn’t a world beater by any means, but he is a guy who can help a team win. And much like Buffalo, if Ryan doesn’t work, Nashville can let him go in free agency anyways and move on.
What should the Flames do?
Whether there is a trade out there for Ryan, these are some options with teams that might find his addition worth it. To conclude, it’s up to the Flames to decide if for the price of Ryan’s salary, they can find something better in the free agency or trade market.
If there is a chance to make a meaningful addition with the added cap space, I think the club should trade him. Given the flat cap and other teams also figuring out their own finances, it may end up that no moves can be made at all. Hanging onto Ryan for one more year and getting him off the books next summer might just be the smartest play.
Image Credit: The Canadian Press / Jeff McInstosh