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2021 Free Agency Priority #1: Bobby Ryan

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Bobby Ryan should be a lock for a 1-year contract in Detroit.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

As the season in Hockeytown draws to a close, fans and front office aficionados have their eyes set on the offseason. From the draft lottery to the start of free agency season, the offseason has become, at times, the most exciting thing with the Detroit Red Wings. It’s the time where new faces don the Winged Wheel, the place where fans feel a small hope bloom within them again.

Currently, the Red Wings only have eight players signed through the 2021-22 season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Steve Yzerman re-sign most, if not all of the Restricted Free Agents. The question remains on the Unrestricted Free Agents. With many approaching their early to mid-30s, and the Red Wings freeing up roster spots to provide younger players with opportunities, which UFAs should stay and which should go?

When it comes to 2021 free agency, Yzerman should have one name at the top of his list: Bobby Ryan.

“But Jake!” you say. “Ryan’s almost 35, he only scored 14 points, and we’ve got a bunch of young players coming up next season. Why should we waste a roster spot on a veteran?” You’re right — Ryan is 35, and his production is nowhere near what it once was. Having said that, Yzerman didn’t sign Ryan with the expectation that he’d be a 50-60+ point player. At best, Ryan is a depth piece on a contending team; a stabling veteran presence amidst younger players. In fact, Yzerman specifically reached out to Ryan to add a positive veteran presence to the lineup. His mentorship, value as a depth signing, and value to the culture of the Red Wings make him a perfect fit in Detroit.

The Pros of Signing Bobby Ryan

Signing Bobby Ryan is a win-win situation no matter how you look at it. At best, you’ve got a strong, solid bottom-six winger that helps guys like Filip Zadina develop. At worst, you’ve got a player on an easily moveable one-year contract at an affordable rate. It’s a win-win no matter how you look at it. Additionally, Ryan’s age, production, and current contract suggest he will sign a very team-friendly deal. Low cap hits will be a highly-coveted asset for contenders in the coming flat cap years. If Yzerman decides to move on from Ryan midway through the 2021-22 season, he’ll be able to flip him for a mid-to-late round pick.

“Late-round picks are okay, sure, but what else does Ryan bring to the table that we couldn’t get from any other vet?”

A few things, actually:

1. Leadership On and Off the Ice

It’s no secret that Veteran Leadership is highly coveted by front offices. From Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning’s obsession with signing bottom-six vets to the Washington Capitals’ bolstering of their blueline, veterans are an asset valued to teams across the league. While playoff teams seek scoring, basement-dwellers look for leadership. This is where Ryan would come in.

Bobby Ryan radiates positivity. In this mic’d up video, you can hear firsthand how he’s able to stay chipper through even the most challenging games of the season. He’s taken on a wholesome role with the younger guys, cheering them on and supporting them throughout a game against the Lightning.

During difficult rebuilding years, it can be easy to feel discouraged. Both fans and players know this. A positive influence like Ryan, who understands the rigors of long seasons, might mean the difference between a winning culture and a lull into complacency.

2. Value as a Depth Signing

Despite what the stat sheet may tell you, Ryan was no slouch for the Wings this year. He’s played nearly 20 fewer games than the rest of the roster and has still managed to remain in the team’s top-10 scorers this season. His advanced metrics are actually among the better of his team. Ryan has one of the highest Corsi-For percentages on the team. The Red Wings are in control of the puck more when Ryan is on the ice.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Carolina Hurricanes
Bobby Ryan muscles away Selke-nominee Jordan Staal from the puck, showcasing some stellar play.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Additionally, his scoring touch helps him to fit in anywhere on the middle-six that works. Whether you need an emergency second-liner or a solid third-liner, Ryan’s got you covered. He’s as reliable as a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Wholesome, warm, and always there in a pinch.

3. A Perfect Cultural Fit in Detroit

In an interview with NHL.com, Ryan shared details of his surgery and time in Detroit. Here’s what he had to say about Motor City:

“The thing I do know right now is, I want to play hockey next year,” Ryan said Wednesday. “That’s been my immediate focus, trying to get ready to do that. You hope it’s Detroit. I haven’t had those conversations yet. I’ll certainly be open to it. If I’m part of the plans, I’d love to be here.” - Interview with Jon Lane, NHL.com.

Ryan is the ideal candidate for a veteran signing in Detroit. He’s passionate, driven, and excited about the time he spent with the Red Wings. Before the season started, Ryan explicitly mentioned that he signed with the Wings because of Yzerman (and pizza). If the two are still on the same page, we might get a chance to see Ryan don the Winged Wheel yet again.

Here’s to hoping Chris Illitch throws in a few pizzas as a signing bonus.