Each day this week, WEEI.com will be putting a player or position in the spotlight based on their “X-factor” status entering the season. Michael Ryder  is up first.
Who better to kick this series off than a guy who fans wanted gone in the offseason but could end up having a major offensive impact in 2010-11? No, it’s not Marc Savard , but rather right wing Michael Ryder. Given his $4 million cap hit and inconsistency last season, it has been rare to hear Ryder’s name in the past few months without also hearing “trade,” “buyout,” or “Providence.” To the contrary, the likelihood is that Ryder will indeed be with the club when the Bruins begin their season in Prague in just over six weeks.
Bruins head coach Claude Julien  has been known for — in both positive and negative connotations — being a big supporter of Ryder. He spoke to the lack of appreciation and credit the winger has been given when he gave the “Michael just had one bad year” (2007-08) quote during the 2008-09 playoffs. Though he also pointed to him as a guy the team didn’t get enough of at times last season, he still seems to be one of Ryder’s biggest fans.
Though Julien’s fondness of Ryder dates back to their days in Montreal, Bruins fans aren’t quite as loyal to the now 30-year-old, and perhaps for good reason. After a debut season in which he finished second to Phil Kessel  in goals with 27 and had 53 points, Ryder’s jersey sales likely took a major hit in the 2009-10 season.
Though the offense as a whole was never as powerful as it was when the team finished second in the NHL  in scoring, Ryder was among those who took the brunt of it. The line that looked so good a season before consisting of him and Blake Wheeler  with David Krejci  in the middle wasn’t so hot the second time around and everybody took notice. Ryder finished the season with just 18 goals and his 33 points put him in a tie for seventh on the league’s worst offensive team.
The fallout of Ryder’s season was predictable — uncertainty to whether he would return for the final season of his three-year, $12 million contract, fans asking about (and perhaps for) a possible buyout — the usual stuff, really. General manager Peter Chiarelli answered any buyout questions pretty quickly in saying the team would not buyout anyone (he stood by his statements even when given a second buyout window). While on the subject at Cam Neely ‘s press conference — and without anyone asking about Ryder — Chiarelli mentioned the winger and said a down year wasn’t cause enough for such drastic measures. A trade seems unlikely, so unless the team sends him to Providence, which could happen, Ryder could be back for one last go-round with the Bruins.
Will he be able to contribute? Expecting a repeat of last season for Ryder would be pessimistic to be sure, and he is coming off a postseason in which he scored four goals despite getting less minutes per night than any other Bruin with more than one playoff goal.
How the lines shake out early on would be too speculative to project prior to training camp, but the offense is going to better, so too may be Ryder. A Julien-coached team generally isn’t expected to be an offensive power house (2008-09 caught plenty of people off guard) but any team that adds two players with the potential of Nathan Horton  and Tyler Seguin  would have to consider their firepower improved.
While we do know the expectations on the offense are greater, we also know that the first time’s a charm for Ryder. In his first years with both the Habs (2003-04) and Bruins, Ryder posted the highest point total of his tenure with the respective club. This impacts Ryder in that though the Bruins shouldn’t be resigned to 33 points from the winger, he may have already played at his highest level and may not be able to improve upon or even replicate his numbers from two seasons ago.
This isn’t to say he can’t be very valuable to the team. If Ryder can end up somewhere in the low-to-mid twenties for goals with the rest of the offense clicking, there will be far less complaints about his cap hit and more praise for his return to form.
It’s not as though the Bruins are dealing with just another center, who could be easily swapped out for another one in their organization. Ryder is a talented winger, and one who can score. Remember all the hubbub about whether the Bruins should have worked something with Edmonton for Taylor Hall ? The rumors (and all indications were that they were just rumors) that a Tim Thomas-for-Simon Gagne deal could be swung? With the exception of Horton and Seguin — a gift that they couldn’t help but take — none of the goal-boosting fantasies were tracked down.
Sure, the team is close against the cap and will need to make a move to shed a little over $3 million when Marco Sturm  is finally healthy, but in spite of all the aforementioned offseason of offensive rumors, the Bruins — assuming they do indeed keep Ryder up — have what they have. Whether that’s enough remains to be seen, but don’t count Ryder out.