Red Wings sign Ryan, Merrill as free agents
The Red Wings have acquired former HoneyBaked player Bobby Ryan, left, and defenseman Jon Merrill, who played with Little Caesars.
A chance at redemption and a homecoming are the narratives of the two players signed by the Red Wings on Friday in the first few hours of free agency, which began at noon.
They are veteran right wing Bobby Ryan and defenseman Jon Merrill.
Ryan, 33, won the Masterton Trophy – awarded for dedication to hockey and perseverance – as a member of the Ottawa Senators this past season after returning from rehab due to alcoholism. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ryan wants to get back to the type of player he was a few years ago when he topped 30 goals for four consecutive seasons with the Anaheim Ducks from 2008-09 to 2011-12.
Merrill, 28, played at the University of Michigan and at the National Team Development Program after growing up in Grand Blanc and Brighton and playing for Little Caesars.
Both players signed one-year contracts: Ryan for $1 million and Merrill for $950,000.
Ryan became a free agent when Ottawa bought out the final two years of the seven-year, $50 million contract he signed in 2014. The Senators will pay him $1.833 million in each of the next four seasons.
He said he embraces the role of being a veteran who can help younger players as needed. But he also wants to prove he can still be an impact player in the NHL.
“I have the selfish goal of wanting to get back to the Bobby Ryan of early in Ottawa and late in Anaheim,” Ryan said in a Zoom press conference Friday. “I don’t really know if that’s realistic, but that’s my goal.”
To that end, Ryan, who is 6-2, said that he has lost weight from the 212-13 pounds he played at during the season to around 202-204 last week. He has changed his diet and is working with a skating coach for the first time in his career.
Ryan, who had five goals and eight points in 24 games in 2019-20, left the Senators suddenly last Nov. 20 – after the team played in Detroit on Nov. 19 and Ryan was a healthy scratch – to take part in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. He returned three months later and scored four goals in eight games – including a hat trick in his first game back in Ottawa on Feb. 27 – before the league shut down due to COVID-19.
Though he was born in Cherry Hill, N.J., Ryan played for HoneyBaked during the 2002-03 season before joining Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League for three seasons.
“It’s funny how Detroit seems to have played a big role in my life for a long time now,” said Ryan, who was drafted by Anaheim with the second overall pick in 2005.
He will have the chance to be a top-six forward with the Wings.
Merrill said it is a lifelong dream to play for the Red Wings after growing up in the area (he was born in Oklahoma City).
“They were the first team to call,” said Merrill, who has played for the Vegas Golden Knights the last three seasons. “I’ve told myself before that if I ever have the chance to put on that (Detroit) sweater, I’d jump on it. So it was an easy decision.”
Merrill said one of his favorite Detroit memories when, as a 13-year-old playing for Little Caesars, he was a flag bearer for a Red Wings playoff game at Joe Louis Arena.
In 49 games with Vegas last season, he had two goals and seven points and was plus-9. In his three seasons there, he was plus-32.
The 6-3,195-pound left-shot, stay-at-home defenseman began his career with New Jersey. He played four seasons for the Devils, who drafted him in the second round in 2010.
In Detroit, Merrill will be a part of a revamped defense. The team acquired veteran defenseman Marc Staal from the New York Rangers via trade and are moving on from Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley and Madison Bowey.
Merrill joins a group that also includes Danny DeKeyser, Filip Hronek, Patrick Nemeth and Alex Biega.