Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Ryan Smyth and a Possible Return

Ryan Smyth was the saving grace of the 1994 NHL entry draft for the Edmonton Oilers when they selected him 6th overall after making the mistake of drafting Jason Bonsignore with the 4th overall pick. In 12 seasons for the Copper and Blue, Smyth scored 265-284-549 and currently sits 7th all time in Oilers scoring history. During his tenure in Edmonton, Smyth became a fan favorite not because of his offensive abilities, but because of the so called intangibles that were so obvious in his game. Smyth played the game with heart and passion, and was a true workhorse every shift, every game. He displayed a constant willingness to sacrifice for the team, which was no more evident than during the 2006 Stanley Cup run, and also likely the reason why he only played 4 full seasons in his 12 years with the Oilers. He was a true leader for the team both on and off the ice and became the face of the franchise. Then in the spring of 2007, Kevin Lowe and the Oilers made a decision they probably now regret when they opted to trade Smyth at the deadline after failing to come to terms on a new contract. So today when Bob Mckenzie posted an article on TSN suggesting that Smyth was interested in a return to the Oilers, it was no surprise that OIL country was abuzz with the news. Smyth, and not Nugent-Hopkins, was the Ryan that Oilers fans were interested in acquiring on this day.

In an interesting turn of events, Smyth himself later denied the story in an interview with the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson. However it has since been reported by Helene Elliott of the LA Times that Smyth requested a trade for family reasons and Kings GM Dean Lombardi confirmed that he has had talks with Smyth. Looking at the Kings numbers it would make sense that Lombardi would be open to trading Smyth. They currently have 11M in cap space (with a 59.4M cap) with only 16 players under contract, and still need to sign a number of free agents including Drew Doughty and Wayne Simmonds. Trading away a 35 year old veteran with a big contract and one year away from unrestricted free agency would go a long way financially. So if all of this is true and Smyth does indeed want to return, should the Oilers welcome him back with open arms?

Smyth has one year remaining on his 5 year 31.2M contract at an annual cap hit of 6.25M, although his actual salary for the upcoming season is only 4.5M. These numbers are hardly an issue for the Oilers who currently have over 20M in cap space, and likely have no intention of spending to the ceiling for the upcoming year. Last season Smyth scored 23-24-47 and appeared in all 82 games for the Kings while still playing significant minutes (18:02 TOI/g). Interestingly, despite developing into a strong penalty killer while with the Oilers, the Kings hardly used him shorthanded (0:19 SH TOI/g). However Smyth did factor largely into their powerplay unit (2:57 PP TOI/g), parked in front of the net no doubt. So clearly, while he has taken his fair share of punishment over 16 NHL seasons, Smyth clearly still has game left in him.

While his offensive output last season with the Kings was hardly that of a 6 million dollar player, his 23 goals and 47 points would still have lead the Oilers in scoring. Offensive numbers aside, his ability to play in all situations, as well as up and down the lineup would be a great asset to the Oilers. On this roster, Smyth wouldn't be counted on to provide offense every night. Which brings me back to the intangibles. Over the past few years Oilers management has been adding a lot of skill to the lineup, but it is very young skill. The Oilers last season were the 3rd youngest team in the league with an average age of only 25.8 years. The Boston Bruins just proved to the hockey world that experience is still important to winning. Along with the experience in Smyth also comes his veteran leadership. While Shawn Horcoff did a fine job in his first year as Captain, you can never have enough strong leaders on a team. Not only does Smyth lead in the locker room, but he also leads by example on the ice. There are not many players better to help teach the young players on this team about what it takes to be a professional in the NHL, and more importantly what it takes to be an Oiler.

Of course there are some drawbacks to bringing Smyth back to Edmonton. Mainly he would be taking potential ice time away from the younger players the coaching staff are working to develop, players such as Teemu Hartikainen who also plays a gritty game on the left wing. Secondly, what would the price be the Oilers would have to pay to bring him back? In a perfect world the Oilers could send back Sheldon Souray, who will make the same salary as Smyth this season with 1 year remaining on his contract, but given Lombardi is likely trying to gain cap space in a deal, they would probably have little interest. Although it has been suggested that the asking price from the Kings may not be all that high.

Given all this, the benefits of bringing back Smyth clearly outweigh the negatives. On a young rebuilding team such as the Oilers, having another veteran leader to mentor and guide the young stars would be the greatest gain. It's obvious that Ryan Smyth still bleeds OIL, so why not bring back a player who is motivated and has the desire to play for this team and this city? Trade for Smyth, put an 'A' on his chest, and help move this team forward into the future.

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1 comment:

  1. I want him back! I'd say Brule for Smyth should get it done. Maybe Midround pick for Smytty could work too.