Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Carbo's straw man

Almost all season long, Michael Ryder has been on Carbo's (and many a Habs' fan's) shit list. He was out of the lineup as a healthy scratch for five games. Only since after Christmas has he started playing again.

No doubt part of this antipathy is the increased expectations raised by his hefty contract signed over the off season. A 30 goal scorer each of the past two seasons, his coaches and fans expected more production this season, not less.

But Habs GM sees it differently. Quite simply, Ryder is not a first line winger. In that sense, almost $3M for the 1 year was probably too much. But is that Ryder's fault? Or his agent's? Maybe both -- who knows how these contract negotiations unfold. One wonders if the only reason he was signed for 1 year was that Gainey was unwilling to pay him first line winger money for any extended period of time, and that he had 1 year to prove to the team that he was.

Ryder has always been a streaky scorer. Last year, he virtually disappeared during the latter part of the season, only to re-emerge with a burst of goals right before the end of the season.

He also was a 8th round draft pick (216th overall) 10 years ago. So in a sense, he has already gone beyond expectations.

But most unfair is his treatment by Carbo. Carbo knows that his team has three sparkplugs, at least offensively: Koivu, Kovalev and Higgins. He probably realized this from the beginning of the season, giving Kovy and Higgins the alternate captain slots vacated by Souray and Rivet.

But it was only recently that he truly capitalized on this and split up the three. Now all three drive their respective lines (except for the last game in Atlanta, which Habs GM prays was just a one game aberration due to the matchup difficulties with Atlanta's top two lines). All three also play significant minutes on the PP and PK too.

Every other forward are secondary to these three, including Ryder. And that also includes Latendresse, the Kostitsyn brothers and Plekanec. But until those three were split up, Ryder was the fall guy. It was his fault that the Habs weren't doing better (although Latendresse got a heaping pile of blame too).

To be sure, all have benefited from these new pairings. And it is simply because other teams find matchups difficult. Of course, it does help that Bob brought back Lapierre and the younger Kostitsyn too. None of these three lines would have worked very well with Grabovski, Begin, Smolinski or one of the other early season regulars.

But even as successful as these lines have been, Carbo hasn't fully gotten off the "Blame Ryder" wagon. Higgins' line is often used as a two-way line, as Lapierre has decent faceoff and defensive skills. So Ryder is often skating against the oppositions' top lines. This is naturally going to make scoring more difficult.

In fact, Ryder has been matched up against other teams' toughest lines all season long. According to the voluminous stats compiled at BehindTheNet, only Smolinski has had tougher "quality of competition" among Habs' forwards. But Smolinski, in fewer games, has racked up a -6 plus/minus, whereas Ryder has maintained a more respectable -3.

Carbo has also not used him much on the PP. Here are Ryder's PP time-on-ice stats from the last 5 games

vs. Atlanta Thrashers: : 9 seconds
vs. New York Islanders: 0 minutes
vs. New York Rangers: 2 minutes, 15 seconds
vs. Boston Bruins: 1 minute, 15 seconds
vs. Chicago Blackhawks: 0 minutes

That's an average of about 44 seconds per game. If Carbo were really interested in getting Ryder back on track, why not get him more minutes in the NHL's #1 PP? He'd be esp effective as the LW on the first unit (essentially to improve the shooting angle from the left side), with the left handed Kovalev playing on the right.

Does Carbo want Ryder to fail? Maybe he doesn't like Newfies. Who knows. But since coming back Ryder has tallied 4 goals and 2 assists in 10 games, translating to 33 goals and 16 assists projected over an entire season. Not bad for a guy who seems to draw the toughest assignments night in and night out.