July 5th, 2013, a day which will live in infamy in the hearts and minds of Ottawa Senators fans. You all know the story, I won’t bore you by regurgitating the agonizing details. Daniel Alfredsson was gone, leaving a gaping wound in the Senators locker room, and the community as a whole.
Fans of the team needed a revival. They needed to know that there was a reason to believe in this new era of Senators hockey, one without their beloved captain of 17 years. Mere hours after Alfie’s departure, the late, great Bryan Murray delivered on said revival, and it was coming in hot.
Bobby Ryan arrived in Ottawa with three fairly successful seasons, tallying 158 points in 229 games. Not world-beating numbers, but very welcome higher-end production for a guy with a $7.25M cap hit.
2016-2017 didn’t yield much of the same. In the summer before the start of the season, his mother, Melody, tragically passed away after a courageous battle with liver cancer. On the ice, Ryan struggled with injuries, playing only 62 games during the regular season, and scoring just 25 points. With Ottawa securing a playoff berth for the first time in two years, it appeared that he wouldn’t contribute much to any sort of postseason run.
How wrong we were.
Bobby Ryan exploded in the 2017 playoffs, helping to propel the Sens to their miraculous Eastern Conference Final run with six goals and nine assists for 15 points, including two overtime winners.
Regardless of what has happened in seasons since, I’d like to take this opportunity to put in perspective what Bobby Ryan means to the Ottawa Senators. He is not Daniel Alfredsson, or Jason Spezza. Not Erik Karlsson, or Mark Stone. What Bobby Ryan has brought to this team is a quiet sense of purpose, and the commitment to always being his thoughtful, competitive self.
Following his mother’s passing, Ryan penned an article for The Player’s Tribune, entitled “Dear Mom”. It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful piece, detailing the struggles that he and his mom went through while he was young, and the tremendous impact that she had on his life. If you haven’t read it, you need to. Seriously.
During the playoff run, he wrote another piece, this one called “Why Not Us?”, looking back on the road his team had travelled to that point. It also gave us fans some insight to his relationships with his teammates, and the bond that they all shared in what was a magical season.
Why am I bringing all of this up? Because at the beginning of the season, I think frustration with Bobby Ryan was at an all-time high. His play, frankly, was horrible, and ineffective. Head coach D.J. Smith made him a consistent healthy scratch for the first time in his career, and it seemed as if his days in Ottawa were numbered.
The perception around Ryan shifted markedly upon his entry into the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program. The tension surrounding him quickly eased, becoming concern and empathy.
When Ryan returned, revealing that he had been battling an alcohol addiction, Senators fans were thrilled to have him back. More importantly, however, they were just happy to see that he was doing better. Ryan visibly appeared healthier, and more relaxed. On-ice product be damned; Bobby Ryan the person was back, and better than ever. Had he not recorded a point the rest of the season, no one would have batted an eye, but like in the 2017 postseason, Bobby had a flair for the dramatic.
The point of bringing all this up, is that Bobby Ryan is a person. As NKB so eloquently pointed out yesterday, his story shouldn’t be treated as a commodity. His sobriety will be an ongoing journey throughout his life, and a hat trick against the Vancouver Canucks will not have any bearing on the success of his battle, but I believe wholeheartedly that he will succeed nonetheless. I have full confidence that this fanbase knows that.
If you don’t believe me, you only need to listen.
Senators fans would have chanted for Bobby Ryan if this game was his first with the team, but it wasn’t. In spite of all the criticisms that Ryan has faced in his career about not living up to his contracts, his injuries, and even his effort at times, he is absolutely adored by this fanbase. Not just for the magical nights and playoff heroics, but for who he is as a man. Bobby Ryan came in hot, indeed. Perhaps never replicating the numbers he posted in Anaheim, but his impact on the Ottawa Senators goes well past the ice.
Unapologetically honest— whether on the topic of his personal life, or potential trades —Bobby Ryan has never blown smoke. He has always, always been himself. What fans have found out in the months and years that he’s been in Ottawa, is that Bobby Ryan being himself, has also entailed him being pretty damn inspiring.
The truth is that Bobby Ryan means the world to Ottawa Senators fans. One needed only to check their Twitter feed when he had his magical performance against the Canucks, or when he earned his “BFR” nickname during the 2017 playoffs. Whatever he’s been through, Ryan has fought like hell to be the best hockey player, and the best man that he can be.
It is through watching him both on and off the ice that fans of the team have fallen in love with him, and why even considering his perhaps excessive contract, they will always appreciate what he brings to the team, and to the community.
When describing his 2017 role change from skill player to net-front grinder in “Why Not Us?”, Ryan said:
I stuck with it, because I knew that I was part of something more. I had seen what this team was like when I was a sniper and honestly, it wasn’t bad… but it also wasn’t great. In that first meeting, Coach told me that things were going to change around here, and that if I was willing to buy into it — to truly buy in and change the way I played the game — the results would come.
And now, here we are.
Here we are, indeed.
During his time in Ottawa, Bobby Ryan has been nothing short of a damn good soldier. His constant commitment to improving in all aspects of his life and career has served as a source of inspiration for fans, and for the players around him.
Because of this, Bobby Ryan has earned an eternal place in the hearts of Ottawa Senators fans. He means the world to us. He always will.
We’re thrilled to have you back, Bobby, and we’re so proud of you. Welcome home.