TORONTO – It was not the kind of breakup that left anyone thinking there would be a chance at reconciliation.
When Michael Ryder left Montreal in the summer of 2008 to join the rival Boston Bruins, he did so with some bad feelings. The one-time sniper had been scratched in eight of the Canadiens 12 playoff games that spring — a decision by coach Guy Carbonneau that not only left him perplexed, but also ensured his days with the team were numbered since he was about to enter free agency.
Yet there Ryder stood in the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday morning as a member of the Habs again.
If anything, the trade that brought him back from Dallas served as a reminder of how quickly things change in the world of sports and how the passing of time can heal old wounds.
“I don’t say (I left) on good terms, but a lot of things have changed since then,” Ryder said after rejoining his old team. “A lot of faces have changed and I think it’s a whole new personnel here now. Things happen and you can’t have bad blood against an organization.
“I have no hard feelings against the Montreal organization, nothing like that.”
There were plenty of familiar faces awaiting his arrival after a travel day that saw Ryder wake up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight Toronto.
Before even undergoing a medical, he had been given back his familiar No. 73 from Brendan Gallagher. The rookie elected to switch to No. 11 and joked: “I heard Rolex makes nice watches.”
Despite the changes that have occurred since Ryder last played for the team, the atmosphere was comfortable. There won’t be the typical feeling-out period that most players go through after a trade.
“It was as if we hadn’t been apart for more than a day or two,” said defenceman Josh Gorges.
Of course, some things have changed in the four-plus seasons he’s been gone. Ryder was a big contributor to Boston’s Stanley Cup win in 2011 and quietly scored a career-best 35 goals last year for the Stars.
There is hope within the Canadiens organization that it has acquired an even better player than the one that left.
“He became a good player (since then),” said coach Michel Therrien. “He gained in maturity like all young players, he established himself in the NHL, he won a Stanley Cup. He’s a winner as far as we’re concerned and he knows what it takes to win.
“It’s a great addition for our hockey team.”
There was no one more surprised to hear of the trade than Ryder himself. He was preparing for a game in Columbus when the call same saying that he had been dealt along with a third-round pick for Erik Cole. It took some time to digest the news.
Asked on Wednesday if he had ever thought about the possibility of playing again in Montreal, Ryder replied: “No, not really.”
“But you see things like that happen,” he added. “It’s like full circle sometimes. It’s good to get back to where I started my career and hopefully I can play the way I did when I was younger and even better now that I’m more experienced.”
It remains to be seen how long the reunion will last as Ryder once again is eligible for free agency this summer. The next couple months will give both the player and team a chance to see if there’s a mutual fit for them moving forward.
There are some parallels with the situation in Montreal when he left and what exists now. The Habs finished first in the Eastern Conference during the 2007-08 season — they’re back on top at the moment — and exceeded expectations by doing so.
However, with Ryder watching the majority of the games from the press box, Montreal was bounced in the second round by Philadelphia. He’ll be looking to play a bigger role and help write a better ending this time around.
“We had a good team that year, too,” said Ryder. “Knowing that I could have helped and not getting the opportunity (as a scratch), it was tough. But you learn from it and you grow.”