Bobby Ryan, Red Wing for a Year

In a livestreamed call with reporters on October 9th, Detroit GM Steve Yzerman talked about signing former Ottawa Senator Bobby Ryan. As the Wings’ boss sees it, the deal is a win-win. His team gets some goal-scoring, some power play help, and veteran leadership in the locker room, all at a bargain price (by NHL standards). For his part, Ryan gets an opportunity for redemption from a team willing to gamble on him.

Back in 2005, Bobby Ryan was the second pick overall, behind only Sidney Crosby. In 2009, he was a Calder Trophy finalist. But by the fall of 2020, he was “far from the most coveted player available on the free agent market” in the words of the Free Press’s Helene St. James. He’d been absent for three months of the previous season attending a player assistance program for alcohol abuse and PTSD.

Long before his drinking problem became public, Ryan’s trauma was well known. When he was 10 years old, his father brutally beat his mother in a drunken rage, fracturing her skull, puncturing her lung, breaking several ribs, putting her in the hospital for four days, and earning himself a suite of felony charges including attempted murder.

He posted bail and went on the lam. His wife forgave him. Then she dragged young Bobby across the country to reunite the fugitive family under an assumed name — the one Bobby still uses today, “Ryan”. After two years, police caught up to them, breaking down the door of their California home and arresting Ryan’s father at gunpoint. He served four years at Riverfront State Prison in New Jersey for the assault and jumping bail.

It all must have been a horrific experience for a kid. And it’s a wild story, stranger than that of any hockey big leaguer since Mike Danton.

Last year, in Ryan’s first home game after returning from treatment, he scored a hat trick. In September, he was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, as the “National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.” He’s been through a lot. It’s evident he’s got a ton of grit. It would be great to see him succeed in Detroit.

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