The trade of Michael Ryder has caught Stars fans off guard. I certainly didn't figure that the Stars would trade Ryder who, at the time of the deal, was their leading scorer. Trading Ryder at this time opens the Stars to questions that are going to cause a seemingly needless distraction.
For one, the Stars got older. A team looking to build around youth for the future just traded a 32 year old winger for a 34 year old. Ryder was set to be a free agent, and his departure would have made a natural opening in the top six for a player like Reilly Smith. The Stars will control Erik Cole for two more years. They also gave up a third round pick in addition to Ryder. At this surface level, the deal makes little sense for a team trying to develop and acquire as much young talent as possible.
Both Ryder and Cole fit a similar statistical profile also. Both players see similar levels of competition. Both players take a similarly high percentage of offensive zone face offs. Last season both players 35 goals on about a 14.5% shooting percentage. The problem fans are running into is that Ryder leads the Stars in points while Cole has three goals and three assists in 19 games.
Having not watched Cole play much this year I can't speak to where his game is, but I can say that the production disparity between Cole and Ryder isn't nearly as bleak as it seems. In the case of Ryder, he leads the Stars in PDO (shooting percentage on ice + save percentage for when on the ice). Over time this number trends toward equilibrium. Ryder is way on the high side, thanks in large part to the Stars shooting percentage with him on the ice. This can account for a decent amount of Ryder's high assist total, and suggests that his production is a little higher than you would expect.
Another thing to take note of is the goal column. Yes, Ryder has a significantly higher goal total thus far. He's also shooting 14.3%, which is close to his career rate of 12.6. Cole is sitting at 7.3% with the same career shooting percentage. We can make one of two assumptions. Either Cole has fallen off a cliff, or with some better luck his goal scoring will come around. Given that he and Ryder both have the same amount of shots, I would bet on Cole coming around offensively.
The Stars didn't make the move for upside. Really, they didn't buy low on him at all. Ryder and a third round pick is probably market value. The Stars made the move to give Glen Gulutzan more strategic options. Cole and Ryder, despite similar statistical profiles, aren't very similar players. Cole is a much bigger body. On the power play it would make a lot of sense to see Cole in front of the net to give the Stars point men a big body at which to shoot.
At even strength the insertion of Cole on the wing with Cody Eakin and Reilly Smith changes the dynamics of the line to a significant degree. The presence of Cole will allow Smith to get into prime scoring areas more often. As nice as it was to watch Smith crash the net in Nashville for his goal, he’s going to make his money in this league as a puck possessing sniper.
Possession is another issue to consider. I can’t give the exact numbers at the moment, but from tacking zone entries for this season one thing that has stuck out is how often Ryder dumps the puck into the zone. Getting the puck deep isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but carrying the puck is more likely to lead to a scoring chance. The Stars have several players that love carrying the puck. Up front Jamie Benn, Jaromir Jagr, and Smith have excelled at carrying the puck into the zone. The trade of Ryder opens up the possibility of Smith carrying the puck into the offensive zone more which can’t be a bad thing.
The biggest impact, and most underappreciated, is the fact that the Stars were looking at a lot of questions for 2014. Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy, Jagr, and Ryder were all looking at unrestricted free agency. The Stars can’t risk losing four of their top six forwards in an offseason. Moving Ryder for Cole gives the Stars a similarly valuable player for the remainder of this season, but ensures some stability going forward.
It was strange timing, but there is a lot of logic here for anyone willing to look. it might take some time for the new guys to gel, but the Stars needed to start shoring their roster up for the long term at some point. That process began with the Ryder trade, and conceivably could continue as the season goes on.