The spin on the Erik Cole and Michael Ryder trade between the Montreal Canadiens and Dallas Stars is that it was more of a business decision by the Habs than a personnel move. However, it is difficult to buy into the official explanation this transaction was solely motivated by contracts and salary caps.
All professional sports trades are business decisions, but not all trades are made to send a distinct message to the team. With the first place Habs trading their struggling top scorer from last season, it sends a clear and direct message to the Habs locker room that a lack of desire by players will not be tolerated.
Early last month, Cole stated he was contemplating retiring after this season, as he was not particularly thrilled with the newly ratified collective bargaining agreement between the players association and the NHL. These words were not exactly music to the ears of a new head coach and general manager, who were trying to re-brand the team in a more positive and professional manner. Apparently, the Stars front office did not get the memo about Cole.
One has to wonder what motivated Cole to waive his no-trade clause and agree to leave a team which is on the rise, for a team which will have their hands full clinching a playoff position in the ultra competitive Western Conference. Maybe Cole spent too many years in North Carolina and misses the warm winters in the sunbelt states. If Cole could not get excited by a legitimate opportunity to win his second cup in a legendary hockey city, chances are a landscape of oil wells will not give him much of a rise either.
Sending a not so subtle message, Habs General Manager Marc Bergevin was putting his players on notice with this move: perform or else. If the top guy from last season with a no-trade clause can be disposed of so readily, there may be little in the way of job security with this team…for anyone. Simply put, the Montreal front office will not tolerate the wishy-washy complacency which was obviously plaguing Cole.
By acquiring Ryder, the Habs involve themselves in a situation where they run the show after this season if they desire. This was not the case with Cole, since he has an additional two seasons remaining on his four-year deal, which was increasingly being seen as a liability by management.
If Ryder, who is in the final year of his contract, shows good chemistry with his teammates during his second stint in Montreal, the Habs can take a shot at re-signing him. However, if Ryder fails to impress, he can be allowed to walk via free agency and the Canadiens still end up with the Stars third round draft pick.
In other words, Ryder is house money for the Habs at this point, since one has to believe there are few teams out there who will part with their third rounder for Cole. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk was taken to the cleaners by Bergevin on this deal. Not only did Bergevin unload two years of a pact he wanted nothing to do with, he received good value for it.
It appears, the Dallas front office may have more interest in building a retirement community than a competitive hockey team. With Cole joining 41 year-old Jaromir Jagr and 40 year-old Ray Whitney on the Stars’ roster, maybe his talk of retirement will be subject to a warmer reception in the lone star state than it was in Montreal.