In the end, Bobby Ryan had seen enough to know the grass was plenty green in Ottawa.
The star winger removed himself this morning from the season-long distraction list by signing a seven-year extension with the Senators that's worth $50.25 million.
The announcement comes just days after Ryan had suggested that he wanted to see how the season unfolded before committing long-term with the Sens, a team that can kindly be described as being “in transition.” That makes it a huge deal for Ottawa. A team that had lost Daniel Alfredsson to free agency two years ago and was forced into trading star center Jason Spezza to Dallas in July finally got the win it needed.
And in signing the deal, Ryan became the latest star player to decide that staying put made more sense than shopping himself to the highest bidder through free agency.
Not that he had to make a financial sacrifice. There was no “hometown discount” in this deal. A guy who can pot 30 goals and average around 0.70 points per game is a desirable quantity, but even in a ho-hum market like the summer of 2015 he's not getting much more than the average of $7.25 million annually he was given by the Sens.
But as many pending free agents have demonstrated lately, there's more to the right deal than snatching every dollar that's on the table. It's all about finding the right fit. For Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, it was a chance to continue their Cup pursuit together with the dynastic Blackhawks. Same thing for David Krejci in Boston. For P.K. Subban, it was the chance to build on the legacy of hockey's greatest franchise.
For Ryan, that meant a chance to be “The Man.”
In Anaheim, he was doomed to play the little brother to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. That perception bothered him. A lot. Certainly enough to pave the way for the trade that sent him to Ottawa in 2013. And when he considered his options in free agency—Philadelphia? Pittsburgh? New York?—he realized that being overshadowed by bigger stars would likely dog him in those places as well.
In Ottawa, though, he can drive the bus. Sure, Erik Karlsson is the face of the franchise (a fact reinforced today when the All-Star defender was named the team's captain), but Ryan will be the focus up front. The go-to guy. The first one over the boards on the delayed penalty call. The one the desperation plays are designed around.
That's an opportunity that drives a competitor like Ryan. Certainly a lot more than an extra million or two in the bank would, anyway.
It's something to consider when you look at the big contracts that will be up next summer. Spezza has a pretty nice opportunity in Dallas, a team that could get him back to the Stanley Cup Final in the near future. Martin St. Louis has found a nice fit with the Rangers. Same with Marc Staal (although the lure of playing with his brothers in Carolina might counter that).
Cashing in is nice, but a smart man knows when he's got a good thing going.