When the season started, it looked like Joakim Ryan had seamlessly slipped into the spot alongside Brent Burns on the team’s second defensive pairing. So much so, that the Sharks placed Paul Martin on waivers and eventually bought out his contract.
The extra money was used to acquire Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators, but even with the acquisition of another top tier defenseman, Ryan’s presence on the blueline went unquestioned.
But then the season started ...
Ryan was underwhelming in his sophomore season. So much so that by the start of December, the coaching staff had decided it was time for a change.
For a majority of December, Ryan found himself watching from the press box. When the injury bug struck the Sharks’ blueline and Ryan was there to fill in the holes, but as soon as players were healthy, Ryan was reassigned to his seat in the press box. He did not play between Jan. 22 and March 14.
Career Summary (via HockeyViz)
In his first season with the Sharks, Ryan was entrusted with 16:45 Average Time on Ice (ATOI) in 62 games. It was the sturdy defensive effort alongside Brent Burns that earned the trust of Head Coach Pete DeBoer and earned Ryan the title of Sharks Rookie of the Year as voted on by the Bay Area Media.
But in the 2018-19 season, his ice time dropped considerably. In 44 games, he had 12:46 ATOI, an almost four minute per game difference and 18 games fewer than the previous season.
Ryan finished the season with a 7 points (0 goals, 7 assists). In his 44 games, he was minus-1 with 39 blocked shots and 9 giveaways.
RAPM Chart (via Evolving Hockey)
What stands out for the 2018-19 season is that while offensively he had an impact, defensively he was a liability.
The true impact of Ryan’s decline can be seen in his 2017-18 numbers. Comparing these numbers to the 2018-19 season, while Ryan’s offensive numbers grew slightly in his second NHL season, his defensive numbers took a significant dip.
Here is where I would put in a highlight from Ryan’s season, but sadly with no goals and very little offense, there’s little to pick from. So, we’ll look at a low light instead.
What comes next?
Ryan spent as much time in the press box this past season as he did in the lineup. Even when he did play, it was clear that DeBoer did not trust him in important, game deciding situations.
Still he has value for the Sharks. He is a very capable third pairing defenseman or a great seventh defenseman because he is NHL ready and can slot in if there’s an injury. He fit in very well when Karlsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Radim Simek went down at various points of the season. Plus, there’s still the chance that he can find the form he had in his rookie season.
According to CapFriendly, Ryan is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) this summer. In 2015, he signed his initial contract with the Sharks, a very agreeable $1.5 million over two years. He played with the Barracuda for those two years and resigned with the Sharks in 2017. It was another two-year deal, this time worth $1.3 million.
The Sharks will need a deal like that to keep Ryan in the fold. The team just signed Erik Karlsson to an 8-year deal that carries an $11.5 million cap hit per year. That means there’s a lot less cap space to go around.
Because he’s an RFA, the Sharks must offer Ryan at least $682,500 for the next season if they want to keep him. He’s probably due a little more than that and it’s worth it to pay him in the $1 million to $1.5 million range for the next year or two to see if he regains his form, or if younger prospects like 2019 first round pick Ryan Merkley are ready to make the jump to the NHL.
Plus, an agreeable contract will be easy for Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson to move midseason for assets, picks or that one piece that could put the Sharks back into the Stanley Cup Final.
Right now, Wilson is focused on the upcoming NHL draft and resigning other free agents like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc. It’s likely the Ryan signing is on the backburner.