'The right fit': Wings sign defenseman Jon Merrill, forward Bobby Ryan to 1-year deals

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — It took one conversation, one discussion with general manager Steve Yzerman, and Bobby Ryan was sold.

Ryan, an unrestricted free agent, spoke 45 minutes with Yzerman and was coming to the Red Wings.

"The passion that comes through for the Red Wings through him is contagious," said Ryan, who agreed Friday to a one-year, $1 million contract with the Wings. "I walked out of the room and told my wife 'I think we're signing with Detroit.'

"I still had some other meetings and calls, but my heart just wasn't in it. It was a 45-minute call that just left me with the impression this was the right fit without knowing what else was out there."

Bobby Ryan

The Wings signed Ryan and defenseman Jon Merrill (Grand Blanc/Michigan) on the first day of NHL free agency, which was significantly quieter than in past years.

 Economic problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic — there's likely to be a flat $81.5 million salary cap for at least a couple years — definitely cooled the market

Players such as Alex Pietrangelo, Taylor Hall and Torey Krug (Livonia) — generally considered the top players on the market — went unsigned the first day.

Subscription: If Wings decide to go shopping, here are the NHL's top 20 free agents

Ryan, 33, had five goals and three assists in 24 games with Ottawa last season. Ryan missed a portion of the season beginning in November — leaving after the Senators' game in Detroit — to enter the NHL/NHL Players Association player assistance program, for alcohol abuse.

Ryan returned Feb. 25 and scored three goals for Ottawa in a 5-2 victory over Nashville

This year's NHL Masterton Trophy winner, for perseverance and dedication to hockey, Ryan was bought out of his final two seasons in a seven-year deal with Ottawa ($50.75 million).

A New Jersey native who moved to Detroit as a teenager to play youth hockey for Honeybaked, Ryan moved on to the Ontario Hockey League before being selected second overall by Anaheim in the 2005 NHL draft.

"It's just amazing, my hockey career started here in Michigan," Ryan said. "I hope when I get there to kind of reinvigorate myself and this team. Selfishly I have dreams of getting back to the Bobby Ryan I was early in Ottawa and late in my Anaheim days. I know that's a tall order, but I have those expectations I set for myself."

Ryan also had a positive conversation with Dylan Larkin about the state of the Wings.

"He mentioned, 'Listen if you come in, we can be a much more competitive team than we were last year'," Ryan said. "He said, 'We're a year older and dealt through last year' and there are other players coming in. They have a feeling they will be a much more competitive team and that's what I needed to hear.

"I asked him whether you're bogged down by the losing and it's gotten to you and if they've accepted it, and that would have been a big red flag for me. But it was told to me that the coach would have been fired if they'd accepted it, so you understand it's a group that doesn't like to lose and they're not going to lose for long. 

"I hope I can facilitate them to the next stage."

More: Wings strengthen system through last two drafts, but still 'a ways off'

Ryan has played in 833 regular-season games with 555 points (254 goals, 301 assists) for Anaheim and Ottawa.

Ryan scored at least 30 goals each season from 2008-12 while in Anaheim — but never scored more than 23 goals in Ottawa.

A Grand Blanc and Brighton native, Merrill signed a one-year contract worth $925,000.

Jon Merrill

Merrill, 28, played in 49 games last season with Vegas, recording two goals and five assists.

Merrill has played in 356 games in his NHL career, with 12 goals and 49 assists.

"It's an honor to play for the Red Wings," Merrill said. "As a kid living in Michigan, I was such a die-hard fan as a kid.

"I told myself that if I ever had the opportunity to play for the Red Wings, if the opportunity ever came up, I would jump at it. To see them calling right away (the Wings were the first team to reach out to Merrill) today, it was an honor and a real easy decision for me."

Merrill (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) played his youth hockey with Little Caesars and then the U.S. National Development Team Program, before playing at Michigan.

Merrill is likely to supply depth and battle for playing time on the third pairing.

Basically a stay-at-home defenseman, Merrill hopes to bring to a young Red Wings team a steadying influence and knowledge of what it takes to win from a successful Vegas organization.

"We had a perfect recipe that first season in Vegas (reaching the Stanley Cup Final), a lot of different types of guys and different roles of players, and great chemistry," Merrill said. "It showed how much we liked playing with each other.

"Everybody is a competitor and as professionals we all want to win. I don't know all the players on the team but everybody is fed up with losing and we'll go out and be competitive and try to win every game."


Twitter: @tkulfan