I first came across the term "mulligan" when I was 12 years old, my first summer of caddying at the Toronto Hunt Club.
It was a great little nine-hole track on the east side of the city and the first hole was particularly scenic - a par-4 with Lake Ontario looming on the right-hand side, a massive inviting water hazard. On my first day on the job, and knowing absolutely zero about the game of golf, one of the players in the foursome sliced his first shot right into that gloriously blue body of water. I heard some chatter amongst them about a mulligan and naturally just assumed that a Mr. Mulligan was a member of the foursome. Only later did I learn it was golf’s term for a do-over; and that if you were playing with an understanding group of like-minded individuals, you could get a second chance when you made a boo-boo off the first tee.
Bobby Ryan, the Anaheim Ducks’ winger, had just such a moment back in June. He was in the midst of a long day on the golf course during a celebrity tournament when he did a telephone interview with a reporter for a suburban Philadelphia newspaper. It was right around the time that Ryan was being linked in trade rumours to half-a-dozen teams around the NHL, including the Toronto Maple Leafs. But the Philadelphia Flyers were at the top of everybody’s list in terms of possible destinations.
Frustrated at his constant inclusion in the daily rumor-mongering, Ryan chose that moment in time to let it get the best of him. He unloaded on the Ducks - saying he was tired of all the constant speculation about his future with the team, and if they wanted him gone, fine, then get him out of there.
A mistake, and one that Ryan acknowledged to the Orange County Register this past week, saying in an interview that he realized he made a gross error by allowing his unhappiness seep into public view on a day when he had 37 holes of golf already under his belt.
Mulligan time - or damage control, if you’d like.
To their credit, the Ducks did a good job of blithely playing down Ryan’s outburst and more importantly, hanging onto his playing rights. In a summer of extensive player movement around the NHL, where many of the rumoured deals actually went through, Ryan is still at the same zip code; and by the sounds of it, wants to stay there.
Ryan didn’t always see eye-to-eye with the Ducks’ previous coach, Randy Carlyle, but he forged a decent relationship with his replacement, Bruce Boudreau. The 2011-12 season was an off year for him, just as it was for his regular linemates, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but he still managed 31 goals and 57 points. The NHL only had 30 players who scored 30 or more goals last year, and Ryan has a little bit of Rick Nash in him, a player with nifty one-on-one moves that can occasionally turn nothing into something.
The Ducks are approaching a bit of a crossroads in the next 12 months, with both Perry and Getzlaf a year away from unrestricted free agency. If both re-sign, then the future looks bright. If the Ducks cannot hang on to them, however, then they have a chance to hunker down at the bottom of the ultra-competitive Pacific Division, where they finished fifth out of five teams last year and saw their cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Kings, win the Stanley Cup.
Ryan sounded genuinely contrite about letting his frustrations spill into a public forum and in his sincerity about remaining with the Ducks, saying: "As far as I'm concerned, I'm a Duck and I'm coming to camp and will be ready to compete.
"I can't speak for the front office ... but hopefully it's something they can clear up with you. As far as I'm concerned, I'm here and I'm ready to go."