- Craig Custance
There are times when Bobby Ryan has a bit of a relapse. He forgets he's in the East, where it's not quite the struggle to advance the puck from zone to zone, where the transition game is a little bit more free-flowing.
"I get to the point where I'm still dumping pucks I don't have to and trying to get a grind going," Ryan said Wednesday morning. "I think there's opportunities to gain the blue line a lot more in the Eastern Conference and pull up and make plays. I'm still trying to figure out the right places to jump and where to cheat, I guess is the right word, and when to look for a fast and quick strike."
Other than that? It's a been a pretty flawless transition.
In the buildup to Daniel Alfredsson's first game against the Ottawa Senators, there has been a lot of examination into the emotion and strangeness that comes when a player woven so tightly into the fabric of a franchise faces off against that franchise for the first time.
But what about the on-ice component? Three teams were dramatically changed on the same July afternoon when Alfredsson picked the Detroit Red Wings as the team for which he wanted to try to win that first Stanley Cup.
The Senators quickly answered with the Ryan trade, a move that was in the works anyway, and the Anaheim Ducks were able to acquire Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first-round pick from the Senators for Ryan.
It wasn't necessarily meant to be a Ryan replacing Alfredsson exchange, but that's how it was perceived. Right now, it's an exchange that is benefiting the Senators. Taking the emotion and the magnitude of a player of Alfredsson's class and leadership out of the equation, Ottawa is a better team with Ryan than with Alfredsson.
"Oh yeah. Absolutely," agreed a Western Conference scout. "Alfredsson has been a real good player for them, but at some point in time, you need to move on, and there's a lot of youth there [with Ryan] and size and he's good. He's real good."
Ryan, just 26 years old, is signed through 2014-15 with a reasonable $5.1 million salary-cap hit. With two goals last night, he has six goals and three assists in nine games. The Senators control play when he's on the ice, as evidenced by his Relative Corsi of 15.
Yes, his shooting percentage is going to drop from its current pace of over 20 percent, but he's been everything the Senators hoped for when they sent that package to the Ducks.
"Bobby's a guy that individually is really skilled. He's more physical than I thought. He's a guy who lays more hits on guys than I had thought from afar," said Senators captain Jason Spezza. "He's a guy who has a knack for the net. He's been a good addition for our team."
Along with added scoring and more physical presence than some Senators expected, he's shown more speed than some of his teammates might have anticipated. Speed isn't an attribute typically attached to Ryan.
"He can make plays," Senators forward Cory Conacher said. "He's got a hidden speed he doesn't use very often, but when he does, he knows how to use it."
Ryan laughed when it was suggested he has an extra gear available.
"I'm not fast by any means. I'm not going to win a whole lot of foot races," he said. "I like to think I have another step every now and again, to try and confuse guys. I'm using the word deceptive."
Deceptive, that'll work.
On the other side of the trade, the Ducks are rolling even without Ryan. The huge raises given to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry (both with annual cap hits over $8 million) meant that the budget-conscious Ducks had to make changes elsewhere. Silfverberg is on the final season of his entry-level deal and has been productive in his first nine games with the Ducks, putting up seven points. Considering a crucial part of the trade for Anaheim was the 2014 first-round pick, analyzing its return might take a little longer.
In Detroit, it gets interesting because so much of what Alfredsson brings to the Red Wings isn't measurable. Red Wings GM Ken Holland likes to have that older veteran on his team trying to win a Cup.
It's easy to imagine the team rallying around Alfredsson in the spring, especially the large Swedish contingent in Detroit, trying to get his name on the Cup. Sometimes that extra motivation provides an additional sense of purpose to a team.
"My own experience was with Dallas Drake; that was a really good experience," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan in recounting his time in Detroit, when the Red Wings won the 2008 Stanley Cup, fueled in part by a desire to win one for the popular Drake. "I ran into Jamal Mayers in St. Louis when we were there, and he was kind of [Chicago's] veteran guy that was in there and played a long time and hadn't won. Maybe there is something to it."
When talking about Alfredsson, his teammates point out the small things he does on the ice. Getting pucks in, getting pucks out. Finishing a check when he needs to. Bringing a calm presence that is important for a team still transitioning younger players into bigger roles.
Stephen Weiss recounted one moment this year when Alfredsson's patience and savvy immediately paid off.
"There was a play in Colorado. He was coming down his off-wing, sold the shot, the D-man slid and he held on to it, let him slide by and found Pavel [Datsyuk] in the slot, which ended up in a goal," Weiss said. "You put him with some of the players we have here and they're just going to continue to get better."
Alfredsson has nine points in 11 games, so his offensive production is there. In a bit of an uncharacteristic trend, the Red Wings are being outshot this season and have allowed 31.7 shots per game, which isn't a good trend for a club that likes to possess the puck.
But at even strength, when Alfredsson is on the ice, 52.3 percent of the shots attempted are at the opposing goal (per ExtraSkater.com). At 40 years old, his contributions are extending beyond veteran presence.
"I thought he looked real fresh. If he can stay that way, I think he'll bring pretty good value to them," said one scout after watching Alfredsson. "As they get older, guys start slowing down and getting worn out. But they can manage his ice time. It's not like he has to go hard every game. They play with the puck a lot, you don't have to work as hard. It suits an older-type player. They use their smarts instead of their legs."
Quipped Johan Franzen, Alfredsson's new center: "He still moves around really well. That kind of surprised me for a 45-year-old."
The challenge for Alfredsson may ultimately be adjusting to a new role where he might not be getting as much prime ice time with the best players. Mike Babcock said he prefers to keep Alfredsson away from Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to provide more balance in his top six. One observer compared Alfredsson's situation to Jarome Iginla's in Pittsburgh last season, and he didn't necessarily mean it as a positive. It can be challenging for a star player to go from the focus of one team to just another player trying to find a fit in a lineup.
With Detroit, Alfredsson's average ice time is at 17:27, down nearly two minutes per game from his average in Ottawa last season (19:21), although he leads the Red Wings in power-play ice time at 3:04 per game.
How Babcock uses Alfredsson and monitors his ice time could determine just how effective he is when the games are most important.
"I really didn't see a drop-off in his play," said the scout after watching Alfredsson. "It'll be interesting to see halfway through the season if I can still say that."
It's too early to declare a final winner after Daniel Alfredsson joined the Red Wings and the Senators replaced him with Bobby Ryan, but ESPN Insider Craig Custance examines the early returns for those two teams as well as the Anaheim Ducks.