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The Rehabilitation of Mike Van Ryn

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Could Mike Van Ryn be part of the answer for the Leafs' blueline
Could Mike Van Ryn be part of the answer for the Leafs' blueline

A lot of digital ink has been spilled trying to look at who the Toronto Maple Leafs could bring into the forward ranks to help bolster the offence and shield some of the younger forwards from the tough minutes. Maxim Afinogenov has been held up as the kind of forward that could come in after a difficult season on a cheap one year deal that would allow him to prove that he can still produce at the NHL level. This year has been a major coup for the Atlanta Thrashers:

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Maxim Afinogenov 79 24 37 61 -11 46 6 0 3 0 177 13.6

61 points for $800,000 is the kind of deal that Brian Burke should be looking to find this summer. So much of success in the NHL is having players outperform their contract and Afinogenov has provided excellent production in terms of boxcar stats at less than a comparable first rounder would receive. However, when most of these discussions have taken place they've been almost exclusively been focused on the forwards. Maybe we were looking at the wrong position.

On Saturday Leafs' GM Brian Burke held forth for two hours on the state of the Leafs' union. Among the tidbits was a hint of what might come. Today, James Mirtle has an article on the difficult decisions facing Brian Burke in the off-season as he looks to fill out his roster. Among the decisions mentioned is one that I think most of had assumed was already made. Our assumptions might have been wrong:

"I’ve said all along, I’d like to be here and be a part of [the Leafs’ rebuilding]," Van Ryn said yesterday. "Whatever role they want to put me in, I’d be happy just to get back on and wear the uniform and play again. It’s a fun room to be around."

"We missed him last year, and I think to an extent we’ve missed him a lot this year," Wilson said. "You look at our record last year, when he was in the lineup, and it was five or six games over 500 [13-8-6]. … He’s a good guy, great in the room, too. Hopefully, things will work out for him and we can help in his comeback next year."

A look at his stats at Behind The Net paint a picture of potential. He had a positive Corsi rating relative to his competition, almost 1 Pt/60EV, just over 4pts/60 5-on-4 as well as the best +/-, and wasn't half-bad on the penalty kill. The flip side is obviously that he only played 27 games. The Leafs salary cap situation for next year is a muddled picture at this point. On the surface, it looks decent. 16 players are already under contract with $11M in cap space left over. The toughest questions will be involve the re-signing of RFAs Nikolai Kulemin and Jonas Gustavsson. The tricky part is that in years in which there isn't a collective bargaining agreement in place for the next season bonuses count against the cap. The Leafs currently have $5.45M in bonuses outstanding for next season. That need for cheap players to fill out the roster is why you can expect John Mitchell and Christian Hanson (or at least comparable players) to be re-signed this summer. The summer should be a busy one with a Kaberle trade likely in the works as well as a move to shed Jeff Finger's contract. That'll give Brian Burke some extra wiggle room.

The amount of time spent injured over the past 2 seasons and the potential he showed during his short stint have led speculation to broach the topic of signing Van Ryn to the kind of bonus-laden contract that finally saw Eric Lindros suit up for the Maple Leafs. It could possibly be a way to solidify the defence, give guys like Juraj Mikus or Phil Oreskovic some extra development time, and provide adequate defensive cover for the inevitable injuries. Unfortunately, Mike Van Ryn is cruelly 47 games short of the necessary threshold to qualify for that kind of deal. Starting from page 185 of the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement you can find the relevant section:

50.2 Player Salary, Bonuses and Actual Club Salary
(b) "Bonuses"
(C) "Performance Bonuses."
(2) Performance Bonuses shall be allowable under this Agreement only for:
(i) Players with Entry Level SPCs under Article 9 of this Agreement;
(ii) Players aged 35 or older as of June 30 prior to the League Year in which the SPC is to be effective, who have signed a one-year SPC for that League Year; and
(iii) Players who are "400-plus game Players" for pension purposes, and who: (i) in the last year of their most recent SPC, spent 100 days or more on the injured reserve list; and (ii) have signed a one-year SPC for the current or upcoming League Year.

This means that MVR can sign a one-year deal to prove to the league that he has fully recovered from some serious injuries caused at the hands of Tom Kostopoulos and Marc Pouliot (hope they fall down 10 flights of stairs). He's the perfect fit for an Afinogenov-type deal although I'd imagine that he'll likely come into training camp on a tryout basis until it's clear that he can handle the contact but from what the Leafs' brass have been saying this seems like a scenario that they are taking seriously.