Late February, during the lockout shortened 2013 season, the Montreal Canadiens were clipping along at a great pace. The team’s record was 12-4-3 nearing the midpoint of a 48 game schedule, and firmly in playoff positioning. Coming off a dreadful 2011-12 season that saw them fall to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, sitting atop the East was a very pleasant surprise for the Habs.
One player who had enjoyed so much success during the dismal season, was struggling mightily as the team steamrolled their way through the first half of 2013.
Erik Cole was signed in the summer of 2011, to a four year contract that would pay him a total of 18 million dollars. He was sensational in year one, scoring a career high 35 goals, and matching his previous best point total of 61. The big winger was a huge hit individually, but the team plummeted to its lowest point total in a decade.
As the 2013 season finally dawned after a lengthy lockout, the Canadiens could hardly find a way to lose, securing at least a point in 15 of their first 19 contests. Cole however, scored just three goals and added a trio of assists in that time. He found himself tumbling down the depth chart, as youngsters Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher and Lars Eller stole away his ice time, before he ultimately found himself leaving town altogether.
Cole was sent to the Dallas Stars, in exchange for fellow sniping winger Michael Ryder, as well as a third round pick in the upcoming draft.
Ryder was an instant hit in his second stint with the Montreal Canadiens, after being drafted by the team in 1998, and playing his first four NHL seasons in Montreal. Ryder left the Habs via free agency to sign with the Boston Bruins where he won a Stanley Cup, before signing in Dallas in 2011.
In 27 games with the Habs after being reacquired, Ryder scored ten goals and 21 points in 27 games, helping the team win the Atlantic Division title, and finish second in the Eastern Conference standings.
The renaissance was short lived however, as the Habs were ousted in just five playoff games by the Ottawa Senators in the playoff’s opening round, with Ryder collecting just one goal and one assist in the series.
Meanwhile, in Dallas, Cole’s struggles continued. He scored just six goals and one assist in 26 games in his first season with the Stars, and the team failed to make the playoffs.
In the summer of 2013, Ryder’s contract was up and he once again became a free agent. Cole on the other hand, had two more years at 4.5 million per left on his deal. Though Ryder moved on from the Habs, he helped them win an Atlantic Division title, and offered them 4.5 million in cap space that would not have been available had Cole not been traded.
The Canadiens unwisely used their cap savings in the summer of 2013 to sign Daniel Briere to a two year contract at 4 million per season. Briere was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche this past June for P.A.Parenteau who will slot into the Habs top six nicely next season.
In a roundabout way, the Habs enter next season with Parenteau on one of their top two lines instead of Erik Cole. In the past two years, Parenteau has scored 76 points in 103 games, while Cole has scored just 36 points in his past 103 games.
The Cole for Ryder trade was a huge boost to the Habs offense at the time, but was such a great trade because they are not stuck with Cole’s huge price tag for next season.
Cole was fantastic in his only full season in Montreal, but somehow lost his offensive touch in the 2012 offseason. Montreal was able to trade him before his value hit rock bottom, for a capable top six winger in Ryder, and now have Parenteau in the lineup thanks to the salary cap savings. The Habs also picked up Connor Crisp with the third round pick that was acquired in the original trade, and he looks like a solid prospect for the future.
So, to recap, the Habs received 21 points in 27 games in 2013 from Ryder, while Cole had just 7 in 26 games. Last season Cole scored 29 in 75 games in Dallas, while Briere had the same number of points in six fewer games.
Heading into next season, the Habs have a 31 year old top six winger who scored 76 points in his last 103 NHL games, while Cole will enter the final year of his contract at the age of 35, and losing ice time to new Stars Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky.
Oh, and the Canadiens scooped up a decent prospect in Crisp as well. Not a bad trade at all for the Habs, and that is why I rank it as the 9th best trade Montreal has made since Wayne Gretzky left Edmonton.