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Atlanta Thrashers left wing Ilya Kovalchuk (R) hooks Montreal Canadiens right wing Michael Ryder in the first period of their NHL hockey game in Atlanta, Georgia, January 18, 2007. (Reuters)
Atlanta Thrashers left wing Ilya Kovalchuk (R) hooks Montreal Canadiens right wing Michael Ryder in the first period of their NHL hockey game in Atlanta, Georgia, January 18, 2007. (Reuters)

Canadiens ship Cole to Stars for former Hab Ryder Add to ...

On the surface, it’s a swap involving 35-goal scorers with nearly identical stats – a hockey deal.

But scratch a little and the Montreal Canadiens decision to ship Erik Cole to the Dallas Stars in favour of former Hab Michael Ryder was driven by cap considerations.

Crucially for Montreal, the 32-year-old Ryder is two years younger than Cole, and is in the final year of a contract that pays him $3.5-million (U.S.), whereas Cole has two years and $8-million (U.S.) left on his deal.

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“It’s a hockey trade, but every trade has a financial dimension in the cap era,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin told a conference call.

The Habs are mindful they’ll need money to sign extensions to several younger players, something Cole admitted in a conference call.

Indeed, when he got the request to lift his no-trade clause, he said “I wasn’t overly surprised, I had heard some rumblings.”

While Bergevin was clearly intent on lowering his cap obligations in any deal, the fact Cole is locked up was a major drawing card for Dallas when talks opened 10 days or so ago.

“That gives us some security because of the added term,” Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk said.

Though Cole is off to a less-than-scintillating start this season – he has three goals and three assists in 19 games and has appeared generally out of sorts – he led Montreal in goals last year with a career-high 35.

Ryder, who has eight goals and six assists this year, potted exactly that number in Dallas a year ago to lead the Stars. “He’s going to help our power-play, he’s a sniper,” said Bergevin.

Ryder is a right-handed shot should be a benefit to the Habs’ struggling power play, and the fact that Dallas threw in one of its three third-round picks for 2013 is all the sweeter for Montreal, which now has six picks in the top 90 of what is expected to be a boffo draft.

This deal may be about finances, but it’s also about personal familiarity.

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien coached Ryder for part of the latter’s first professional season in the American Hockey League and knows all about him.

One of the people who convinced Cole to sign for the Canadiens as a free agent two years ago, former Montreal GM Bob Gainey, is an adviser to the Stars, and former Carolina Hurricanes teammate Mark Recchi works in the Dallas front office.

It’s a safe bet they were among the people Nieuwendyk spoke with to ensure Cole’s post-lockout comments about retiring weren’t anything more than idle musings.

Add in the friendly relations between Nieuwendyk and Habs counterpart Bergevin, and you have the ingredients for a deal.

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