Habs' Ryder could be looking for two new homes as free agency approaches - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Habs' Ryder could be looking for two new homes as free agency approaches

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The Montreal Canadiens sniper is on a one-year contract that can make him an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

And he's pondering whether to continue spending the off-season at home in Newfoundland after a second summer of vandalism against his home and his car in St. John's.

The 27-year-old had his car fire-bombed in one incident and pelted with eggs in another over the off-season. His house had been paint-balled and a car in front of his house vandalized the summer before.

"It kind of turns you away from going back there," Ryder said Sunday as the Canadiens closed three days of scrimmages at the 4Glaces Pierrefonds arena.

The team begins a run of six pre-season games in seven days when it plays the first of consecutive games against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night at the Bell Centre.

"I never had any problems until the last couple of years," he added. "I want to stay at home, but stuff like this, you really don't want to deal with.

"People follow you home sometimes and things like that. Sometimes I was afraid even to drive around. It's a weird, weird situation."

Ryder said he has no idea who attacked his property or why, but that there had been a wave of vandalism in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly against cars with out-of-province license plates.

This summer, a gasoline bomb was thrown against a tire on his new BMW. He said the car may have caught fire had police not spotted it while driving past.

"It turns you away from going back there," he added. "So I don't know what I'm going to do now.

"This year I stayed up here (in Montreal) a little longer and next year I might stay even longer."

Or he may be playing in a new city.

Ryder and the Canadiens failed to reach agreement on a long-term contract this summer and, for a second year in a row, he avoided an arbitration hearing at the last minute by signing a one-year deal. He will earn US$2.95 million this season after making $2.1 million in 2006-07.

It is a bargain price at current rates for a winger who has led the team the last two seasons, each time with 30 goals, after scoring 25 as a rookie in 2003-04.

Under the collective bargaining agreement, he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer even though he will have played only four NHL seasons because he will be 28 years old.

If the Canadiens don't sign him before then, they may decide to trade him during the season rather than lose him for nothing as a free agent.

Ryder has grown used to playing under one-year contracts and was not put out by the club's failure to offer a longer deal.

"The two sides decided it was best for a one-year and that's what happened," he said. "My main goal is to try to be consistent every game, and if I do that, I think everything will fall into place.

"We'll see what happens."

Perhaps the Canadiens are cautious of a long-term commitment. Ryder was selected 216th overall in the 1998 draft and spent three years in the minors before former Montreal coach Claude Julien, who had coached him in junior hockey in Gatineau, gave him his NHL chance in 2003.

His goal-scoring prowess is evident, particularly on the power play where he scored 17 goals. But his defensive play lagged and he was minus-21 last season, although on a team with plenty of minus players.

Coach Guy Carbonneau expects a big year from his first-line right winger.

"That's why he signed for just one year - he wants to prove to the organization and to the people that whatever money he was asking, he deserved," said Carbonneau. "The plus for us is that we hope he has a great season."

Ryder's run of setbacks continued in camp. On the first day of scrimmages on Friday, he missed a bodycheck and banged his face on the top of the boards, leaving him with a swollen left eye.

But he looked sharp on Sunday playing with his regular centre Saku Koivu and rookie Sergei Kostitsyn.

The other member of Montreal's top line, Chris Higgins, was kept out of all three days of scrimmages and will miss the first three pre-season games while recovering from shoulder surgery, Carbonneau said.

Higgins said he asked to scrimmage Sunday and was turned down.

"We haven't had the OK from the doctor to put him in a game," Carbonneau said. "We'll start putting him into contact situations in practice. He'll be on the ice every day. He just hasn't had the OK to hit and get hit."

The stars of the scrimmage sessions were rookie winger Matt d'Agostini, who led the team with four goals, and forward Andrei Kostitsyn, who Carbonneau called "probably the best for these three days."

He also liked defenceman Mathieu Carle, who will play for AHL Hamilton this season, and his goaltenders.

The camp was slated to be a showdown between incumbent No. 1 Cristobal Huet and rookie Carey Price for the starting job, but it was backup Jaroslav Halak who stole the show, allowing only one goal over three days. Huet allowed three and Price five.

Cuts were expected later Sunday to bring the camp down from 62 players to about 44 for the first week of exhibition games.