Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, right, is congratulated by teammate Erik Cole following the Canadiens 3-0 win over the New York Rangers in an NHL hockey game in Montreal, Saturday, February 23, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Graham Hughes.
MONTREAL - General manager Marc Bergevin had no qualms about pulling off a trade to bring Michael Ryder back to Montreal even with the Canadiens sitting in first place in the NHL Eastern Conference.
Bergevin sent veteran forward Erik Cole to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Ryder and a third round draft pick in 2013 on Tuesday in a move designed to bolster the power play and reduce next season's payroll.
"There's never a good or bad time to make a trade," said Bergevin. "He's a guy who is going to help our power play.
"He's a sniper. He scores goals."
The Stars were in Columbus when the trade was made, and Ryder was to make his way to Toronto where Bergevin said there was a good chance he will be in the lineup when the Canadiens face the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
Both wingers are coming off career highs of 35 goals last season, but while Ryder has stayed on course with six goals and 14 points in 19 games for Dallas this season, Cole has had a slow start. The six-foot-two right wing had three goals and three assists in 19 games for Montreal.
Cole, who waived his no trade clause to accept the move, mused about retirement both in October and after the NHL lockout was settled in January due to concerns about his family and with some provisions of the new collective bargaining agreement.
But Bergevin said that was not considered, adding it was mainly a hockey trade.
"I want to make this clear: (Ryder) is a player who can help us right away," said Bergevin. "He's a player that produces.
"Nothing against Erik, but he will help us in areas we need."
Ryder will also help the Canadiens fit under the salary cap, which is to drop to US$64.5 million next season.
Cole has two years remaining on a four-year deal signed in 2011 at $4.5 million per year, while Ryder is in the last season of a two-year deal that pays him $3.5 million per year. The Canadiens had already cleared a large block of space for next season when they bought out Scott Gomez' contract in January.
"Salut Erik. Gonna miss ya brother," tweeted Habs goaltender Carey Price. "Welcome back Ryds!"
Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk cited Ryder's impending free agency as a reason he elected to trade him.
"Erik Cole is a top-six power forward who skates well, adds size, and is under contract for the next two years," said Nieuwendyk. "We thank Michael Ryder for his contributions and look forward to what Erik will bring to our group."
The 32-year-old Ryder was drafted 216th overall by Montreal in 1998 and played his first four NHL campaigns with the Canadiens. He had back to back 30-goal seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07 but dropped to 14 goals in 70 games the following season.
He left as an unrestricted free agent in 2008 for Boston, where he scored some key goals as the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011. That summer, he signed as a UFA with Dallas.
The native of Bonavista, N.L., had a career-high 63 points for the Habs in 2003-04. In 650 career games, Ryder has 203 goals and 207 assists.
The 34-year-old Cole spent nine seasons with Carolina and part of one with Edmonton before he signed as a UFA with Montreal in 2011.
After a slow start, Cole got hot in mid-season on a line with centre David Desharnais and left winger Max Pacioretty that was one of the few bright spots on an injury-plagued team that finished last in the Eastern Conference.
That line was flat from the start of this season and new coach Michel Therrien moved the struggling Cole to another unit.
The Oswego, N.Y, native was a leader on and off the ice last season, when he paid for Louis Leblanc's parents to fly to Anaheim for the rookie's first NHL game.
Cole, who has 222 goals and 235 assists in 721 career games and won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006, had a physical presence with his willingness to drive hard to the net off right wing. Ryder is less physical, but is more of a sniper.
Bergevin said Ryder "brings a different kind of leadership, but he produces."
He said Ryder was happy to return to Montreal, where he is well aware of the pressure from the city's hockey-mad fans.
The GM was clearly concerned about the power play, which started the season hot, but took a deep dip before recovering recently with a goal in each of the last three games. Ryder has two power play goals this season and 80 in his career.
Ryder was enroute to Toronto and unavailable to the media.
The move came hours after the Canadiens announced that left winger Rene Bourque would be out indefinitely with a concussion. Coach Michel Therrien said Bourque, who missed the last two games with what the team said was a flu, did not know what caused the injury.
—with files from The Associated Press.