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Big Loss On The Blue Line

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
You won’t find anything good to say about Mike Van Ryn’s injury, suffered Saturday when Tom Kostopoulos of the Canadiens hit him from behind.

If the Leafs were a losing team, Van Ryn’s story would be worthy of extra exploration. After all, you need to find something good to talk about among the bad.

But the Leafs have been largely respectable and occasionally, as they were against the Canadiens, very good. So Van Ryn’s story goes untold.

This may be the centre of the hockey universe, but no one here knew how good Mike Van Ryn was. Traded for Bryan McCabe and a fourth-rounder in 2010, Van Ryn’s abilities weren’t the driving force behind the deal. The deal was about moving McCabe and his contract.

So imagine the delight at 40 Bay when Van Ryn instantly stepped in as a versatile, conscientious player. Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson used him in all situations and he was pulling down 21 minutes a game.

More to the point, Van Ryn’s fine play gave the Leafs another bargaining chip. At 29, Van Ryn is in his prime. He is experienced and versatile enough to bring offence to a pairing or caution to another. Players like that are coveted at the trade deadline and with the Leafs focusing on the future, Fletcher was looking at the possibility of converting a player he brought in as a salary dump for a young talent or a draft choice. In GM land, that’s a really good day.

Now Van Ryn could be gone until around Christmas and the specter of a concussion makes a return date highly speculative. When Kostopoulos hit Van Ryn from behind, (please, no nonsense about Van Ryn ‘turning’ into the hit), he set a clock in motion that chimes off at the trade deadline. How much healthy time Van Ryn manages will go some distance in determining the Leafs’ fortunes and Fletcher’s ability to maximize his acquisition.

As always, in disaster there is in opportunity. Jonas Frogren and Anton Stralman have been in a three-way rotation with Carlo Colaiacovo.

Wilson’s conundrum has been eased by Van Ryn’s injury. There will be more opportunity to work Stralman into the lineup but his youth and Frogren’s lack of experience mean Colaiacovo’s 107 NHL games are a big deal.

I’d like to see Frogren given a chance. He would bring a level of toughness to the Leafs defence. That’s the one measure that has been noticeably absent this year.
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