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Derek Ryan Discusses Contract Negotiations, Stanley Cup Aspirations and More

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
8 months ago
Derek Ryan was tied with Warren Foegele for sixth-most goals for the Edmonton Oilers last season with 13. Eleven came at even strength and two while shorthanded. The 36-year-old had a solid campaign offensively and defensively. He finished the season with a 56GF% (31-24), had a 56xGF%, 55.2SF% and 50.7SF%. He signed a two-year extension with a $900k AAV. His cap hit dropped $350k from last year, but he received the second season, a compromise that helps him and doesn’t hurt the Oilers, in case Ryan ages quicker than they want and has to play in the American League in the final year of his deal. He wouldn’t count against the salary cap in that scenario.
Ryan’s decision to take a lower cap hit was for two important reasons: family, and the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.
Ryan is confident the Oilers are a legitimate Cup contender, but he was also quick to point out there are no guarantees. Winning is difficult. Jason Strudwick and I sat down to chat with Ryan about his new contract, life in Edmonton and how he sees the Oilers moving forward.
Jason Gregor: There was a report you represented yourself on this contract. How was the negotiation and was this something you’ve always wanted to do?
Derek Ryan: I wouldn’t say that I represented myself too much. Obviously, Kenny and I, we went to lunch and had all of the phone conversations. I had my agent, who’s been with me the whole time, advising me, and I would call him and tell him the details and all that. But I mean I’m also at the point in my career where the contract negotiations are pretty low key and not too stressful. So yeah, it was interesting. I think that Ken and I have a good relationship and we obviously know what position each person is in, so it was pretty easy.
Jason Strudwick: Why was it so important for you to come back to Edmonton?
Ryan: There are a lot of answers to that. Family, for sure. The kids being older — Zane is nine in August — it’s hard to pick up and move. You don’t want to do that. We have roots pretty deep in Edmonton now with school and hockey and gymnastics and dance and Bonnie’s friend group and the friend group that I have from school and the Oilers and whatnot. We love it here, we love the fans, and it’s a great place to play. I think that it kind of catches a bad rep for most of the league who haven’t been here, haven’t played here. It’s actually a great place, a great city. The winters are kind of tough, but it’s not too bad.
And, most importantly, I wanted to stay here because this is my window to win. I’m at the point in my career where winning is important, and I think there is no other team who has a better chance to win than the Oilers in the next few of years.
Gregor: It is safe to say the series loss to Vegas was much more painful for the group than last year to Colorado. Your team felt you were closer this year. Games five and six you controlled the play in periods one and three but had a tough second period each time.  A lot of the veterans when they spoke afterwards basically said, “We need to be better” and Leon Draisaitl said, “The team needs to stop beating ourselves.” Is it too simple to say you guys would give up the easy goal to the opposition, and if so, how do you ensure that those easy goals are rarer next season?
Ryan: Yeah, I mean it’s hard. I definitely agree this year feels a lot different than last year. Making it to the Conference Final last year kind of felt good. You could pat yourself on the back. At the same time we kind of felt like Colorado was definitely better than us, and a level above us. This year we make it to the second round and not the third round, so everyone is up in arms about that, but at the same time, it’s different because we lost to a team that we felt…I don’t know if we’re better than them, I felt we are. I don’t know if we convinced people of that, but I think that a lot of the people and the players in our locker room thought that we were better than them.
We definitely had chances to win games in that series and had our own chance to win the series overall. But the playoffs are hard. The difference is so fine, there are so many things and stars that have to align in terms of your own play, your teammates’ play, you need to get some lucky bounces, you need some good calls to come your way, you need some good goaltending. All of these things have to happen to win the Cup. It’s really hard. And it just didn’t happen.
I don’t think that you can focus, for next year, what can we do differently? Do we need to revamp our complete playoff mentality? First off, you have to continue to get there, as Ken has talked about. You have to continue to get there and to give yourself a shot, and when you get there I think that your experiences that you’ve had before, so this year in particular, those help you. You can handle those momentum swings, which are so drastic, better.
We saw it in the first round against LA where one team would get a lead and then the other team would grab some momentum and tie it up. It was anybody’s game. It was the same against Vegas. There was huge momentum swings in terms of goal scoring, in terms of penalties, just carrying the play and carrying the other team’s defensive zone. And you just use the experience that you’ve been there before. Maybe you’re not so emotionally out of control, you’re able to harness your emotions a little bit.
I haven’t watched the playoffs religiously as we’ve lost out, but I’ve watched a little bit and you see Vegas and it seems like they’re maybe a little more… they’re just more disciplined, more dialled into letting Matthew Tkachuk punch you in the face five times and just smile at him. You’re willing to take that pain and that hurt to not retaliate and we all know hockey, we’ve been around hockey long enough to know what the ref is going to call, it’s going to be the retaliatory penalty. I think there are a lot things that go into what we can do different. But I think the experience of being there before and managing the emotions and the momentum is a huge part of it.
Strudwick: You talk about maturing and growing and just learning as you go. Do you need to have a conversation before the season about that, because it’s pretty difficult to turn that on in game 83?
Ryan: Yes, and I know that we will. We’ve already had that conversation after losing out. Ken came in and had a very emotional discussion with the boys. The year-end meeting is always hard, especially when you’re not hosting the cup, but especially painful this year. Guys were crying in there, very emotional; guys are invested. I’m sure that meeting will be carried over into the training camp opener and we’ll set the tone in what we expect.
You can’t go into game one preparing for game whatever in the Stanley Cup final in June. You have to start and focus on having a good start in October. You have to focus on the road that is right in front of you. You can’t focus on we have to win the Cup this year or all hell is going to break loose. You just have to focus on coming into training camp in the best shape possible, have a good training camp, having a good first couple of games of the season, having a great October and then it just builds and snowballs.
I know what you’re saying that you just can’t just change playoff results on game 83 from previous seasons, but at the same time, you can’t be thinking about that all year either. It’s too much of a grind, the season itself is too much of a grind. You can’t just be in that mental state the whole time. It just doesn’t work.
Gregor: The importance of what you just said with your group is ‘guys we can’t win the cup in October,’ but potentially you could maybe lose home ice advantage if you have a slow start. Connor McDavid talked about how you have been a really good second half team the last few years, but your first 41 games haven’t been as consistent. Is it manageable to focus more on a good start, finding consistency and not having too big of lulls?
Ryan: I think that’s more the message come October, come September, than we need to win the Cup, because there are lots of teams who think their Cup is coming. Edmonton is not the only one. There is Carolina, Dallas, and Colorado is right back in there. There are a bunch of other teams who are right there, they are knocking at the door, and they want the Cup.
But you can’t just come in on day one and scream “I want the Cup!” It starts with a good start to the season. I agree with Connor. We’ve talked about that in the dressing room that the Oilers have been a great second half team in recent history, but I think we have to come out of the gates and have a great first half, that should be our focus, and even narrower than that. As I’ve said before, I think the message will be long term in training camp. But it’s also got to be, you’ve got to narrow the focus a little bit and focus on getting our game to a higher level. Who knows what the roster is going to look like, what the line-up is going to look like and when it comes down to that, then we are starting to build our game for whatever our team is looking like at that time.
Gregor: Was the Vegas series the most painful loss you’ve incurred in your career?
Ryan: For sure in my NHL career. Yeah, it was definitely way more painful this year. I talked about how it’s different than last year, losing to Colorado last year, how I felt that they were a bit better than us. This year Vegas, not so much. Yeah, it took me a good 10 days to two weeks to kind of get over it and reset. It was hard. It was that pit in your stomach that Ken talked about. You have that and you know what, at the end of the day, that’s what you need to get to win, right?
Because after losing to Colorado, everyone was kind of patting their back a little bit and maybe that doesn’t give you that pissed off feeling in the summer to train, that pissed off feeling to come into training camp and to start the year in October and have that fire in your belly. Maybe you have to have that pit, I don’t know, I haven’t won the cup, but it definitely hurts this year more than any other years past.
Gregor: I know your kids have enjoyed their time in Edmonton, being in the community and playing sports. How would you evaluate your son’s hockey coach?
Ryan: (Laughs) There is this one tall guy who is pretty good on the defensive end, he keeps the kids pretty dialled in and makes a good joke every now and then too. But he has some room to improve offensively for sure.
Strudwick: We’re all growing.
Ryan: Yeah, I don’t know if that’s his forte, but (laughs) but there’s some room for everybody I think.
Strudwick: We’re all growing buddy, we’re all growing up there. Just trying to link three passes together (laughs). (Strudwick coached Derek’s son, Zane.)
Gregor: When you’re done playing is coaching your kids, or is coaching a higher level something you’d want to get into?
Ryan: Yeah for sure with my kids. That something I don’t get to do a lot of now. I’m gone a lot whether I’m on the road or just at practice or home games. I definitely want to coach Zane as he gets older and after I retire. I don’t know about coaching at a higher level as a career. I’ve had lots of people tell me that could be a potential fit for me, but I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I think I would be a better fit for a player development role to come in once a month and be a mentor for those guys and kind of raise their game and raise their mental dexterity a little bit. I think that would be a better fit. I don’t foresee coaching, but it’s also hard to say what I’ll do next week, let alone what I’ll do five years from now.
Gregor: Do you have any hobbies that you like to do? Do you draw, or build things? What do you do outside of hockey training in the offseason?
Ryan: I love that question. Not too artistic so I’m not building too much. I’m a golfer, I picked up golfing in the last year or a half or so, so not a lifelong commitment to get my game back, instead I’m trying to find one to keep up with the studs we have on the Oilers. I’m a fly fisherman, there is a lot of great fly fishing in Spokane and in Idaho area, my son is pretty into golfing and fishing and he will do that with me. We do lots of boating, and we have a pool in our backyard in Spokane so we spend lots of time with our family swimming there and swimming in the lake around Spokane, that’s about it I guess. It’s mostly just family time, swimming, golfing and fishing.

PARTING SHOTS…

Dec 23, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Derek Ryan (10) scores a goal during the first period against Vancouver Canucks goaltender Collin Delia (60) at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
I enjoy talking with Ryan. He’s direct, but also goes in-depth with his thoughts. His explanation about you can’t think about the Cup in October is valid. You will be mentally burnt out before the playoffs begin if that is the path. They know that is the goal, but in order to win a Cup, Edmonton will need to prove they can eliminate the “gift” goals early in the season, otherwise their playoff heartache will continue. It sounds like the loss to Vegas has opened to their eyes to the reality of needing to improve defensively, at least in limiting the quality chances. Edmonton didn’t actually give up many chances, but the ones they did were often high quality.
Reducing the high danger chances against will be their focus next season.

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