When it comes to Bobby Ryan, I have two major thoughts. The first is that he’s clearly an NHL player. He finished 14th in points and 18th in goals among right-wingers last season. This season he’s only 43rd in points, but that still would make him a second-line winger considering there are 30 teams in the NHL. 2016-17 was the first season in Ryan’s time with the Ottawa Senators that he didn’t lead the team in points at the 41-game mark. He’s unquestionably an NHL-level scorer. The second thing is that he’s not worth his contract. Ryan has five years left after this one at a cap hit of $7.25M. That makes him the highest-paid player on the team. He’s currently 567th in the NHL is cost-per-point (The Euge’s favourite stat!), in the same category as guys like David Desharnais, Michael Del Zotto, and Dan Hamhuis (and Jonathan Toews!). He’s also got fewer points and a much lower points-per-game rate than the other players at his cap hit in David Krejci and Kris Letang. So although Ryan is still an NHL player, he’s paid like a much better one.
That being said, I think we may be making a bigger deal out of Ryan’s contract than necessary. The reason is that I think that in Bettman’s Salary Cap NHL (TM), every team will end up with at least one player on a contract they’re not worth. Ryan Callahan is currently at a cap hit of $5.8M for three more years, David Clarkson is at a cap hit of $5.25M for three more, and both are currently far worse than Ryan. There are also deals that aren’t awful yet, but will progressively get worse over time. Brent Seabrook will have a cap hit of $6.875M for seven seasons after this one, while Ryan Kesler will be at the same rate for five more seasons. Kesler will be 37 at the end of his deal, and it’s hard to imagine him being noticeably better than a 35-year-old Bobby Ryan. Even some deals that were just signed in the offseason like Milan Lucic (7 yrs, $6M per year) and Andrew Ladd (7, $5.5M) are already looking ugly. It seems like part of the new NHL is having a contract on the books that is essentially dead weight.
So no, Ryan isn’t worth his contract and isn’t likely to be ever again. But that just puts the Sens at the same disadvantage most teams in the league will be at. I think at some point pretty soon, analysts will start looking at the salary cap minus ~$7M because every team will have to think of it that way too. Some GMs will get lucky and have their players on toxic contracts get injured, giving some kind of LTIR relief, but most will have to navigate the market knowing they have a fourth-liner being paid like he’s a first-liner.
I know one concern for Sens fans is the fact that Dion Phaneuf is also making a good chunk of change: $7M against the cap for the next four seasons. In my mind, Ryan has been more of a disappointment this season than Phaneuf, and Ryan’s contract runs a year longer, but there are still valid concerns there. The Sens may try to look to get out from under one of these contracts over the next couple years, because having your two highest-paid players both overpaid could be a real problem.
So in the end, the good news about Bobby Ryan’s contract isn’t that there’s an easy way out of it, or that he’s about to go on a tear. No, it’s that it isn’t as crippling as people seem to fear. It’s a problem trying to compete with your hands tied behind your back. It’s less of a problem when everyone ties their hands behind their back. And the good news is that almost all NHL GMs are great at hurting their future by worrying about the present. Ryan’s contract will just keep the Sens from getting an unfair advantage.