Over the years, the Capitals have had a number of offensive weapons in their arsenal to employ against the opposition’s defense. One such player was longtime forward Mike Ridley. In NoVa Caps’ latest Capitals Alumni Profile, Diane Doyle takes a look back at Ridley’s Capitals career.
Michael Owen Guy “Mike” Ridley was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on July 8, 1963. While playing youth hockey in his hometown, he suffered several setbacks that hindered his development as a hockey player. While playing midget, he suffered a broken leg from a hit from James Patrick, who, ironically, later became a teammate of his while with the New York Rangers. Later, he broke a collarbone. The net result of those injuries is that he lost two important years of development as a hockey player. By age 19, he played Tier II junior for one season.
Given his age and the fact he had only reached Tier II, he gave no consideration to having a pro-hockey career. Instead, he attended his hometown University of Manitoba and played hockey for the university team. Playing hockey at Canadian universities is nowhere as prestigious as playing hockey at American universities as the Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union (CIAU) does not give full scholarships to athletes. Any athlete wanting to go the college route instead of junior hockey would have to impress American college scouts.
During his first year at University of Manitoba in 1983-84, he had a really good year for the Bisons, scoring 39 goals and adding 41 assists for 80 points overall in 46 games played. After the season, he was selected as the Canadian University Player of the Year, a First Team All-Star and an All-Canadian. The following year, 1984-85, he had 29 goals and 38 assists for 67 points overall in 30 games played. He was selected as an All-Star and All-Canadian again.
Given his late development, he was never drafted by the NHL since scouts tended to scoff at the level of competition in the CIAU. Instead, he signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers after his second year of college on the strength of the recommendation of the Rangers’ assistant coach Reg Higgs, who had seen Ridley play in college.
Time with New York Rangers
He ended up making the New York Rangers’ 1985-86 team right out of training camp. He had such a great training camp that the Rangers signed him to an NHL contract. He was one of the most effective, unknown free agents to ever walk into an NHL training camp. He earned the role of second-line center due to his offensive finesse, his tireless work, and determination.
In his first year with the Rangers, he had 22 goals and 43 assists for 65 points overall and ended up leading the Rangers in both assists and overall points. He performed well in the playoffs for the Rangers, who advanced to the Prince of Wales Conference Finals. In 16 playoff games that season, he had six goals and eight assists for the Rangers. After the season, he was selected for the 1985-86 All-Rookie Team.
He got off to a fine start for the Rangers at the beginning of the 1986-87 season as well, scoring 16 goals and adding 20 assists in 38 games played by the start of the new year. However, on January 2, the Rangers traded Ridley and right wings Kelly Miller and Bobby Crawford to the Washington Capitals in exchange for center Bobby Carpenter and a second-round draft pick. Carpenter was the Caps’ first-round pick back in 1981 and had scored 53 goals for them during the 1984-85 season, but since then, had clashed with then-Head Coach Bryan Murray and had not played a game for the Caps since November 25.
After the trade, Murray commented, “I really like Mike Ridley. He was such a factor in the playoffs against us. He’s a strong individual, and although the rap against him always was that he’s not as fluid a skater, he uses his people well and he sees the ice well. Also, he’s a good faceoff guy and I looked at the stats today. That’s what we need.” Washington had lost 36 of 59 faceoffs to the Pittsburgh Penguins during an overtime loss that took place the previous day (January 1, 1986).
During his season and a half with the Rangers, he scored 38 goals and had 63 assists for 101 points in 118 games played.
Washington Capitals Career
Ridley finished out the season strong for the Caps, scoring 15 goals and adding 19 assists for 34 points overall, finishing with 31 goals and 39 assists for the entire 1986-87 season. He ended up netting two goals and one assist for the Caps in the playoffs that year which came against the New York Islanders when the Caps lost the “Easter Epic” in the fourth overtime period.
His first full season with the Caps was in 1987-88, in which he scored 28 goals and 31 assists for 59 points overall. He also contributed six goals and five assists during the playoffs for them, as well. In that year, the Caps advanced to Round 2, after beating the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games, but lost to the New Jersey Devils in Round 2 in seven games.
In 1988-89, he had his best season with the Caps, scoring 41 goals and 48 assists for 89 points overall. He was selected for the NHL All-Star game that year. He had two hat tricks that season, one against the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 11, 1988, and the other against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 6, 1988. This came in a season during which the Caps had a total of five hat tricks. In the playoffs, Ridley had no goals but five assists in a year the Caps lost the Division semi-finals to the Philadelphia Flyers. He played five more seasons with the Caps and while he never again approached 40 goals, averaged between 25-30 goals and 69-82 assists per season. He was usually productive in the playoffs during those years, as well.
He remained with the Capitals until he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs on NHL Draft Day 1994. In the seven and a half seasons he spent with the Caps, he played in 588 games and had 218 goals, 329 assists and 547 points overall. In 85 playoff games for the Caps, he scored 19 goals and 41 assists. At the time of the trade, Ridley was second on the Capitals’ all-time list in goals (218), third in points (547), fourth in assists (329), and eighth in games played (588).
Link to 40 Greatest Caps Video on him:
On June 28, at the NHL Entry Draft in Hartford, Connecticut, the Caps dealt Mike Ridley and their first-round pick (16th overall) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for their first-round pick (10th overall) and right winger Bob Pearson. The Caps used the pick to draft defenseman Nolan Baumgartner from Kamloops of the Western Hockey League.
At the time the trade was announced, Ridley was in U.S. Arena, along with goaltender Rick Tabaracci and forward Pat Peake for a draft reception for about 500 season-ticket holders. Ridley was signing autographs when he got the phone call from Coach Jim Schoenfeld about the trade.
“You’re in a business — it can happen at any time. Still, it’s a shock,” added Ridley, speaking very softly.
The Capitals said they made the Ridley deal for two reasons: to take Baumgartner, a hard-hitting defenseman, whom they rated No. 2 at his position; and to give a chance to younger forwards, such as Steve Konowalchuk, Jason Allison and Pat Peake.
Then-General Manager David Poile said after the trade. “Ridley has been as dependable a player as we’ve had in the time that I’ve been with the Capitals. He’s hardly missed any games, he was an excellent two-way hockey player, a very reliable player that a coach likes to have … He played power play for us, he killed penalties, a real good player. But I think it was time for a bit of a change.”
Remainder of NHL Career
Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager, Cliff Fletcher, acquired Ridley with the idea he would be with the team for years to come. But Ridley was starting to develop a chronic back problem. While he played in all 48 games of the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, he was frequently in pain. His productivity suffered somewhat as he had 10 goals and 27 assists for 37 points overall. In addition, the Leafs’ Head Coach at the time, Pat Burns, did not like what he considered to be Ridley’s soft style of play.
As a result, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for Sergio Momesso who was a much more physical player. Vancouver had envisioned playing him on a line with Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny and that his playmaking ability would complement their skills. However, his back problems limited him to playing in just 37 games during the 1995-96 season, during which he scored six goals and added 15 assists. A highlight for him that year was scoring the first Canucks goal in General Motors Place, the home arena for the Canucks. He rebounded to some degree in 1996-97, getting 20 goals and 32 assists for 52 points overall. He was a standout during the first half of that season, but his ailing back failed him again. While he missed only seven games, he was in pain. The Canucks released him after that season.
After getting treatment, he played with the Manitoba Moose in the International Hockey League (IHL). He played four games for them, scoring two goals and two assists. However, his back continued to bother him and he retired from hockey.
For his NHL career, he finished with 292 goals and 466 assists for 758 points overall in 866 NHL games. He added 28 goals, 50 assists and 78 points in 104 playoff appearances.
By Diane Doyle
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