Ryan O’Byrne: A Take from my Lonely Island

by Rick Stephens, AllHabs.net

“Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities.”–Oscar Wilde

MONTREAL, QC.– What do these players have in common? Jeff Halpern, Max Lapierre, Tom Pyatt, Dustin Boyd, Lars Eller.

They are all natural centers who could be pivoting the bottom two lines on the Montreal Canadiens. Toss in Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez and you quickly realize that seven centers for four lines is not ideal. The result is guys learning to play at a new position.

Waiting in line behind that logjam in Hamilton are Ben Maxwell, Andreas Enqvist, Ryan Russell, Ryan White, David Desharnais, and Gabriel Dumont. Yes, you’re getting good at this little quiz: they all play center.

You’re on a roll so don’t stop now. Don’t forget that also in the system are centers: Louis Leblanc, Olivier Fortier, Tanner House, Michael Cichy, Joonas Natinnen, and Mark MacMillan.

I won’t bore you with weights and measures but I’m sure that you are savvy enough to know that few, if any, in that list fit the skilled center with size requirement that the Canadiens have been coveting for years. Oh, if the Habs had only drafted Chris Kreider in 2009? But that’s the subject of another article.

So, lo and behold, who do you think was on GM Pierre Gauthier’s shopping list? You guessed it! Yet another smallish center.

Sigh. Put another log on the pile.

Let’s take a look at Michael Bournival, Gauthier’s new addition. He has speed, is gritty, and has a good work ethic. So far, so good. But Bournival lacks the size or offensive skill to be an impact player.

Did Gauthier leave the grocery list at home?

NHL scouts, The Hockey News, TSN’s Bob McKenzie are all in agreement. Bournival is projected to be, at best, a third-line two-way center.

Super. That’s not exactly much to get excited about, we will have to wait several years to see how he pans out, and oh, by the way, don’t the Habs have a gazillion other players just like him?

But who cares, right? We got rid of a redundant defenseman who wasn’t playing anyway.

I care.

Despite what you’ve been told, there is no one on the current Canadiens roster who can do the job of Ryan O’Byrne. Remember when he was touted as a replacement for Mike Komisarek? O’Byrne did just that taking over as the leader on the defense corps in hits and blocked shots on many nights.

But O’Byrne is a superior skater, sports a better shot, and has excellent work ethic.

O’Byrne was the only Habs defenseman physically able and willing to clear the front of the net. Screening in front of Carey Price and shots deflected by opposition forwards have both been problems this season without O’Byrne in the line-up.

And unlike the crop of centers-in-waiting, there is only one defenseman who can step in and play a similar role to O’Byrne, Jarred Tinordi. Yet, he is two to three years away from putting on a Canadiens jersey on a nightly basis. Let’s hope that there isn’t pressure to accelerate Tinordi’s development given the hole created in the organization by trading away O’Byrne.

Let’s also be up front about the reason O’Byrne was not playing in the Habs line-up: Jacques Martin. The antiquated coach has different rules for different players. With O’Byrne, it was the shortest leash possible.

Martin stripped the confidence from O’Byrne causing him to play tentative. O’Byrne knew that one mistake would mean being nailed to the bench or exiled to the press box.

Fortunately in the NHL, not all coaches are like Martin. Take O’Byrne’s new bench boss for example, Joe Sacco. O’Byrne disembarked the plane and was immediately welcomed.

Granted, the Colorado defense was hit with injuries, but let’s not downplay the excellent game that O’Byrne played on Friday night. He stepped in to the lineup and led the Avalanche in ice-time (24:51), hits (6) and was the co-leader in shots on goal (3) and blocked shots (4).

His performance is even more remarkable when you realize that he hasn’t played a game for a month. This is a credit to his conditioning which he committed to in the summer.

It really disappoints me that the Montreal media, bloggers and fans took great delight in using O’Byrne’s name as a punch-line to a repetitive, lame joke.

Perhaps they wouldn’t be so quick to question his character if they took the time to accurately report that O’Byrne was protecting the reputation of a teammate when he took the woman’s phone in a Tampa Bay bar. It would also be a step in the right direction to mention that all charges against him were dismissed.

It would also be refreshing to read that the own-goal was simply a mistake. And when the pluses and minuses are totalled that O’Byrne’s mistake pales in comparison to defensive gaffes by those who are glorified such as Marc-Andre Bergeron, Patrice Brisebois, …

When a player is reviled in the media, it’s disturbing how myths are twisted to become fact. How many times have you heard that O’Byrne regularly fired the puck into the crowd? In fact Roman Hamrlik owned the honour of the most delay-of-game penalties for putting the puck over the glass last season.

Not only on the Canadiens, but in the NHL! Yet, it is O’Byrne who has been adorned with the horns.

I prefer to remember things that actually happened.

  • A solid defense partner for Andrei Markov for most of last season. (Inexplicably, he was in the press box to start the playoffs.)
  • A valued, never-complaining, guy in the dressing room.
  • A very effective penalty-killer.
  • The only Canadiens defenseman who could intimidate opposing forwards who entered the Habs zone.
  • Incredible work ethic. Typically the last player off the practise ice both this year and last (along with Ben Maxwell).
  • His part in the moving ceremony during the Centennial game when he took off his jersey and handed it to Butch Bouchard as the No. 3 was raised to the Bell Centre rafters.
  • The way he responded as a loving son when his mother, Lorelei, died last year following a battle with cancer.

Trading O’Byrne is a huge blow to an already depleted group of young defenseman.

In 2007, many hockey publications raved about the storehouse of defensive prospects of the Canadiens. Only one is currently on the roster, P.K. Subban. We have seen Pavel Valentenko, Ryan McDonagh, David Fischer and now O’Byrne turned loose by the Canadiens.

This should be a concern to Habs fans as a major overhaul to the defense is on the horizon. Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik, and Hal Gill are all unrestricted free agents at season’s end with Josh Gorges and Alexandre Picard being restricted free agents. Jaroslav Spacek will be a UFA one year later.

Let’s see what happens as we get closer to July 2011. Perhaps the mention of Ryan O’Byrne’s name won’t seem quite as funny anymore.

(photo by Getty)

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About the Author

Avatar of Rick Stephens
Rick is the Editor-in-Chief, lead contributor, and owner of the All Habs network of websites. His mission is to build a community of Canadiens fans who are informed, engaged and connected. He is the vision behind all four sites within the network - All Habs, Habs Tweetup, We Are Canadiens, and The Montreal Forum - and is responsible for the design and layout of each. In concert with the strong belief that "Habs fans are everywhere!", Rick is pleased that people use All Habs as a conduit to find and connect with other Habs fans worldwide. He is also proud that Habs Tweetups have allowed fans to meet in person and develop long lasting friendships.

6 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Rob says:

    Great article. I don’t mind the trade but I deffinately see your points. I don’t mind the trade because let’s face it Martin is our coach and it’s not likely O’Byrne was going to play that much. With that being said if Our GM uses that money at the deadline to improve our team. Essentially even though it’s short term maybe we’ll be further ahead. And Martin for all his faults has this team acting and playing like professionals. They look like they’re playing with purpose. They’re outshooting teams this year. They NEVER did that last season. And yes, Price has looked great, but I believe our record would be pretty similar no matter who’s is net. The teams been playing good. Anyways, great article!

  2. Kyle says:

    Great article to read. I couldnt agree more with you. He was a dedicated player who did what he could for the organization. He never complained about the lack of playing time, but respected it for thinking it was best for the team. you definitely cant find a better teammate than O’Byrne. He will be missed by many fans. Once the older defencemen are gone it will be hard to create a dynamic D corps. The future of habs defencemen looked pretty good, with O’Byrne, Gorges, Subban, and Tinordi.

  3. Lorne says:

    Of course, what this article deliberately chooses to ignore is the real reason O’Byrne was traded– the fact that, as long as he was in town, he and Carey Price were going to spend more time partying than practicing.

    It’s no coincidence that, in the wake of O’Byrne’s departure, Price has become one of the top goalies the in the league.

    And sure, maybe that sounds like just a mean-spirited rumour or mud-slinging, but ask anyone who spent any time in the bars where they were hanging out. Bottom line is he got traded because he was a negative influence on the franchise player.

    • Thanks for your “mean-spirited rumour” mongering directly from the bar. You are welcome to comment again anytime when you sober up. If you chose to get your information from going to practise rather than sitting in a bar, you would know that Ryan O’Byrne was one of the hardest workers. He was always one of the last to leave the ice.

      Tying O’Byrne’s departure to Carey Price’s success is absurd. O’Byrne was traded to Colorado on November 11th — Price was phenomenal in October.

  4. PETERV says:

    Excellent article. As one of Ryan’s biggest fans (I have two of his game-worn Montreal #3 jerseys), I fully agree with everything Rick said. Ever since I first saw him in Hamilton, I was hoping he’d be the one big player the Habs wouldn’t trade away for nothing. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I don’t think Bournival will ever play in Montreal, and if he does, it will only be a handful of games. As for Tinordi, I hope he can stay a Hab. If Martin is still there when Jared arrives, I’ll bet he’s traded before too long too. It’s amazing how a team with the history of great players has no one who can do a good job of evaluating talent these days.

    • Thanks for your comments Peter. The Canadiens made a huge mistake by trading away Ryan O’Byrne last season. He was extremely effective when paired with Andrei Markov, and was an effective penalty killer. It was another in a long line of young players who Jacques Martin failed to help develop, stripping O’Byrne of confidence.The Canadiens were forced to give up additional talent to fill the hole left by O’Byrne bringing in Mara and Sopel.

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