Tough luck stalls Van Ryn’s Leaf career

Any evaluation of last September’s trade in which Mike Van Ryn became a Leaf in exchange for Bryan McCabe won’t be fully complete for quite some time, that is – not until the fourth-round draft pick in 2010 that Toronto also sent Florida’s way develops.

More than 50 games into the NHL season, the difficulty in making the comparison has been compounded by a trio of injuries to Van Ryn, the most recent of which was suffered in Toronto’s 5-2 win over Montreal on Saturday night. The Leafs’ rearguard left the game with what was termed only as a “lower body injury” after being hit from behind into the boards by the Habs’ Max Pacioretty.

The suspected left leg injury to Van Ryn is the latest setback in what otherwise appeared to be a promising inaugural season in blue and white for the 29-year-old London, Ontario native. Between November 11 and January 21, Van Ryn missed twenty-nine of 32 games due to concussions suffered as a result of hits from Montreal’s Tom Kostopoulos and Boston’s Milan Lucic. At one point, the understandably frustrated blueliner needed a reassuring talk from Leafs coach Ron Wilson after failing a prerequisite baseline test in anticipation of being reinserted into the Toronto lineup.

Four days after Van Ryn’s eventual return, Tomas Kaberle was lost to a hand injury prior to the team’s game against Pittsburgh on January 31. In the first three games since Kaberle went down, Van Ryn was the Leafs’ leader in collective ice time, registering 74 minutes and 2 seconds of action in a win over the Penguins, an overtime loss to his former team the Panthers, and a pounding defeat to the Sabres.

A mainstay on Team Canada’s World Junior lineup a decade ago, Van Ryn has emerged as arguably the team’s second-best puck-moving defenceman behind Kaberle, and continues to be positionally sound in the Leafs zone, often breaking up opponent’s passes in the lanes in front of goalie Vesa Toskala’s crease. Including Saturday’s game, the Leafs are 11-7-5 in the 23 games in which Van Ryn has suited up.

The term of Van Ryn’s absence is indefinite as Wilson stated only that he will be “out for a while.” The turn of events in the career of the University of Michigan alumnus is more than unfortunate, if not mind-boggling. In the first three years during his tenure with the Panthers, Van Ryn missed a total of five games. The fourth and final year in the Sunshine State was not so memorable, as he missed 60 games with an injured wrist.

Adding insult to this latest ailment was the overtime goal scored by McCabe – Van Ryn’s counterpart in the September trade – in the Panthers’ come-from-behind win over the Leafs last Wednesday. McCabe received more than his fair share of boos during a memorable yet often error-prone playing career at Air Canada Centre, but none more loud than echoed by a hostile Toronto crowd as their former power-play anchor was named the game’s first star wearing enemy colours.

Van Ryn is four years younger than McCabe, leaving plenty of time for last fall’s transaction to eventually work in the Leafs’ favour.

Though, through no-one’s fault, his progress as a Leaf will have to wait a while longer.

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, a regular column at