Thursday, November 04, 2010

End Of The Line For O'Byrne?

Markov is back, Subban is adapting well. The Canadiens top 6 defenders are shaping up. With RDS-favourite and current fan “free pass” Alexandre Picard in the wings, it’s getting hard to see how Ryan O’Byrne will ever see ice time again.

Not to be overly dramatic, but in what is a critical year for Ryan, a season without any hockey could spell disaster for his playing career. Not only might it hurt his paper thin confidence, but it won’t do wonders for the CV he’ll be passing around next summer either. There’s only so many jobs you can get with:

Strengths: Height

That’s why 12 games in, I wanted to ask you all the question.
Is it nearing the end of the road for Ryan O’Byrne?
Now before you answer, let’s consider together how this even came to pass. After all, the Canadiens had been a team without a large defence corpsfor quite some time before Ryan came along, and his 2007 Calder Cup run followed by an impressive start in 2008 seemed to signal a stalwart had been unearthed.

Nothing has come easily since to Ryan O’Byrne though. 2008-09 began well enough but ended up being intersected by a couple of trips to Hamilton for “reconditioning”, in this case his mojo. Then, after his March recall, the Canadiens stunk their way to an eventual sweep in Boston that would not be forgiven. The team was dismantled, the coaches replaced and two big bodies were brought in on D. Gill stuck and Mara didn’t, but the damage was done for O’Bynre. His star had fallen and he was associated with the old ugly regime.

Or so we thought. After Markov got injured and Mara faltered, Jacques Martin suddenly thanked his predecessors for O’Byrne. He was no star, but a reliable enough defender who at least tried to do what he was told. The honeymoon wasn’t to last forever though. Martin, always desperate to find a wy to keep MA Bergeron in a lineup, frequently sat O’Byrne on the sidelines or the bench to make the space. The decline to the point we have arrived at now, with Martin’s seeming complete and utter lack of time for Ryan O’Byrne on any surface he has to monitor, came in the playoffs as the Canadiens met their inevitable end and Bergeron became the coach’s answer to every question asked by opposing coaces about how his team was going to score.

Is O’Byrne out of favour?

I suppose before we ask anything else, though, we should ask whether O’Byrne is out of favour? Really, not being mindreaders, it's anyone's guess. The coach will say he isn't, but that means little. It certainly seems like he is.

Maybe he’s just a victim of circumstance, the one swept under the very winning wave being ridden by Carey price, Alex Picard and PK Subban. However, playoff memories linger long for a coach like Martin and he certainly showed he wasn’t looking to develop O’Byrne in training camp.

Of course favour in this town comes and goes like the sun. O’Byrne could be sitting on the right side of the press box wall sooner than later.
I still feel his predicament now is touchy. Spacek is losing favour and it is Picard who is moved up, not he. This despite the fact the Canadiens could use a player who remembers that minding the back end is a pretty good idea once in a while. Picard for all his talents is an offensive defenceman on a team with Markov and Subban and Hamrlik and Spacek and even Gorges, his primary talents aren’t currently missed. Ryan, on the other hand, is a big player who can block shots, stay at home and direct players to the outside. I’d say the coach’s whims and fancies are coming into this.

Ice time and wins

Just for fun, I looked at the very unscientific correlation between Ryan O’Byrne’s ice time and Canadiens wins.

>Min played GP W L OTL
More than 20 min 4 4 0 1
More than 18 min 8 5 2 1
More than 16 min 38 23 13 2
Less than 12 min 12 2 6 0

There are a few ways to look at this data.

The first, and probably most unrealistic is to conclude that Ryan O’Byrne causes wins by playing more minutes. That somehow the more minutes Martin gives Ryan, the greater the chance of winning the game. We’ve all seen him play. Let’s dismiss that for a minute.

The second conclusion that could be drawn is that when the team is losing, O’Byrne gets benched. This, as we have observed is certainly true to some extent. But even here one can look at the situation from different angles. That O’Byrne is being punished for somehow causing the loss or that the coach prefers to repeatedly play his other options when the team is fighting for a win.

In my opinion the latter conclusion is probably the truer. That said, there is something interesting to be taken from the data. If, the games are going well and Martin has the chance to ice a balanced schedule for the defenders, it has proved to work out well. Getting OByrne in at 16+ minutes seems about reasonable for a final pairing D-man with no PP duties, has been good in the wins column (in that Ryan himself doesn’t seem to singlehandedly blow games that are being won, anymore) and is probably good for fitting workload to aged legs. On the flip side, Martin’s strategies for going for it in games where O’Byrne is iced in a losing start are to be questioned. Benching O’Byrne for better options hasn’t turned too many losses into wins.

The positive spin

Looking at O’Byrne’s exile from a slightly different angle, one might see how it could be a good thing.

Canadiens seasons over the past few years have a tendency to follow similar paths. Iffy initial stretch, hot winning period and cooling into amore prolonged dip. Typically it has been the prolonged second dip that has produced changes in direction and personnel. Last season, Latendresse and Chipchura were released after Slovember . Sergei got his recall twice after the November doldrums. D’Agostini was the same again, as Chipchura had another false start.

My point I guess is that although we all appreciate the points garnered in October and November, the team doesn’t come together as that season’s edition, the one we think of as the playoff vying group, or the playoff-playing group until later.

For O’Byrne, waiting out a few games now might be a chance to watch others trip up while his star is on the rise with the coaches, and certainly with fans. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say. Familiarity breeds contempt. Without doing anything other than sitting up high in a nicely tailored suit, O’Byrne may yet play himself into an NHL career.

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