BOSTON -- Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien was asked Friday about the possibility of Michael Ryder and his $4 million salary cap hit becoming a cap casualty when Marc Savard ($4 million) or Marco Sturm ($3.5 million) return from long-term injury reserve, which could happen within the next 2-4 weeks.
Julien immediately went to the defense of Ryder and bluntly questioned why the winger's name continues to swirl in the rumor mill as a possible candidate to be traded or demoted to make room for Savard or Sturm?
"I guess as a coach, I would answer, 'Why bring Michael's name up?'" Julien said. "Why is he the one that is being pointed at right now? You're going to say salary and everything else, but there's no reason right now in the world to even look at anybody, and for me right now, I think Michael's had a really good start to the season. All it's going to do is make the people above me's decisions even harder."
Ryder made that choice even more difficult on Monday as he scored his fifth goal of the season, lighting the lamp on the power play 15:26 into the first period and helping his team to a 3-0 win over New Jersey.
Ryder has two goals and two assists in his past six games, and as Julien pointed out after the win Monday, it's not just that he's contributing on the scoresheet but that he is doing so in crucial situations.
"He's scored some big goals for us," Julien said. "He's made some big plays too. You look at some of the assists he's got, they've been some pretty good passes for goals. There's no doubt he's confident right now and I guess he's playing with more confidence than this time last year."
Julien is correct. Through 15 games last season, Ryder had only three goals and three assists, and was in the midst of a 10-game drought without a point. After Monday, Ryder was third on the team with 11 points. But as has been the case throughout his career, whenever Ryder is scoring, he is also mixing it up physically and doing whatever is necessary to make the play.
On Monday night Ryder found himself on a different line as he was on the right wing with Gregory Campbell at center and Brad Marchand on the left. Playing with the scrappy Campbell and Marchand was a different dynamic for Ryder, who usually finds himself with finesse-style players. But he didn't mind the switch and made sure to credit his new linemates for their offensive capabilities.
"Even though they play hard, they can still make plays," Ryder said of Campbell and Marchand. "Soup [Campbell] made a great pass to me wide there and [Marchand] can definitely play too. I think those guys getting on the forecheck helps us keep the puck in there and makes us work a little harder in the offensive zone."
Ryder did his best to match the physical intensity and edginess of his new linemates, and was even sporting a gash on his cheekbone compliments of a high-stick from New Jersey Devils winger Mattias Tedenby. The Bruins were unable to convert on the subsequent four-minute power play, but Ryder didn't mind paying the price.
"It stung a little bit, hit me right on the bone, but it makes you look a little tougher I guess," Ryder said.
What Ryder doesn't look like right now is a guy who deserves to be demoted to the AHL or traded away. Yes, his trade value is increasing, but he certainly deserves a spot on the Black and Gold.
Julien was right. Ryder doesn't deserve to be mentioned every time the Bruins' cap issues are brought up. Right now, he's playing like the guy that has two 30-goal seasons and four 20-goal seasons.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli definitely has some tough decisions ahead, but if Ryder keeps playing this way, he may take himself right out of the mix.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.