Every one of us has bad days, when personal problems make it almost impossible to even think about our jobs. If we do show up at work, our production suffers.
“Mentally,” Ottawa Senators winger Bobby Ryan said, “you just can’t get there.”
Ryan had a lot of those days last season and the season before that. Head coach Guy Boucher alluded to it heading into training camp in September and again on Monday, when he all but guaranteed Ryan would be more like the player he was in the Stanley Cup playoffs, when he was second in team scoring, than during the 2016-17 regular campaign, when he ranked 10th.
Ryan credited Boucher, a psychology major, with helping him get through his troubling times.
“I had some things that needed to get settled away from the rink, I’ll just put it that way,” Ryan said to a couple of reporters after practice. “I was having a very tough time with it and he helped me a lot through it, really. He gave me a little bit of a longer leash than most people would. It wasn’t until mid-January, February, that I started to get those things settled, those family issues put away. When I got that all dealt with, then it was a little easier to come to the rink every day.
“When you compound it, media, and with not scoring and all that kind of stuff, it’s pretty easy to go to a pretty dark place,” Ryan added. “So he was one of the big reasons I kept coming back. He helped me get through it.”
Ryan said he also leaned on his sports psychologist in Toronto and the people he trusted most.
Finally, he said, “I was able to just play.”
Ryan, the Senators’ highest-paid player, was their best all-round forward in the post-season. In 19 games, he had six goals and nine assists, substantially accelerating the pace that produced 13 goals and 25 points in 62 regular-season contests before that.
Nobody from the outside world knew why he was struggling. Some theorized that all those broken fingers – five since the Senators acquired him in 2013 – had taken a toll. Others thought, as Ryan neared his 30th birthday, he was just slowing down. Still others suggested his conditioning was lacking.
Ryan had previously admitted only that he had been slow to learn Boucher’s system.
“I think we’re much more relatable than people know,” he said of National Hockey League players in general. “We’re going through the same thing you might be going through, but the generous side of it for you is you’re not in the limelight. You might be working 9-to-5 or you might own a business or whatever it is. If it affects a player that’s not scoring, it’s a much different story than somebody that’s got to go home and take it to different situations.
“A lot of times, I sat on the ice thinking about a lot of different stuff other than hockey last year,” he added. “I’m not using it as an excuse by any means, but I had a lot of issues last year that I needed to work on.”
Well documented was how tough Ryan’s life was growing up, how his father physically abused his mother and then, while on the lam, dragged Bobby to California and changed their last name.
“It’s not exactly a crutch at this point because it’s been so long, but yeah it’s been a tough go,” Ryan said. “That’s been long gone and long put away, but it seems like there’s always something. Everybody can relate, there’s always something that pops up and just kind of pulls on you. I had a lot of that last year at the same time, so it was tough.”
Through it all, Ryan has learned not to hastily judge others.
“I always hesitate, especially when I look at guys and think, why hasn’t that guy scored in a while?” he said. “I don’t know. So maybe there’s something going on there.
“I’m the first guy to say never get down on a guy that’s not scoring or not doing this or that. There might be something bigger going on.”
Big things are expected this season from Ryan, who is expected to start out on a line with centre Derick Brassard and winger Mark Stone. Can he reach the 30-goal plateau, as he did four times with the Anaheim Ducks?
“I think so, absolutely,” Boucher said. “Because a big part of his regular season (in 2016-17) didn’t have to do with hockey, and that’s all taken care of. When you start with a free mind, you’re giving yourself a chance to be at your best. Right now, he’s been terrific.”
Karlsson sent spinning
Ryan provided the “highlight” of Monday’s practice when he undressed a reasonable facsimile of the NHL’s best defenceman during a 1-on-1 drill.
“Oh, I put him in the blender there, eh?” Ryan said with a laugh when asked about his move to get around Erik Karlsson, whose surgically repaired ankle continues to make progress, but isn’t yet where he needs it to be. “The one before that, he had to bail out because we were going to run into each other and I had a full head of steam. He just (put his arms over his face) and got real small, and I went over top of him.”
To deke out Karlsson when he did, Ryan said, was a matter of timing.
“I did tell him, ‘I’ve got to get it while I can because, in about a week, you’re going to be able to make that turn and I’m not going to be able to go anywhere,’ ” Ryan said. “He just laughs. though. He’s like, ‘I know, if I’m at one hundred per cent, I’ve got you no problem there.’ So I take it with a grain of salt.
“I’ll take the credit if you’re going to write about it,” Ryan added. “It was a good move, I put him in a tough spot, trying to make him turn because I knew he couldn’t turn that way quite as well as the other.”
As for when Karlsson will make his season debut, Ryan was as unsure as anybody else.
“He looks so good,” Ryan said. “I think he’s going to honour the timeline, though. Do not rush that. We can stay float until he gets back.”