Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Ryan Smyth and the Value of Leadership

Through 17 games of the 2011-12 regular season, the Oilers currently sit in 6th place in the West and 2nd in the Northwest, only 3 points behind the Wild with a game in hand.  The surprising start to the season has been the result of number of players performing better than Oilers fans could have hoped they would, with one standout being none other than Ryan Smyth.

Smyth has once again found the scoring touch that made him a 30-goal man four times in his NHL career.  Through the first 17 games, Smyth has scored an impressive 10-7-17, good enough for the team lead, with a +2 rating.   Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that Smyth is currently 2nd on the team with 29 PIMs, which has largely been the result of his willingness to get into the tough areas and battle for every puck.  The Oilers made the deal for Smyth this summer in the hopes that he would bring leadership into the dressing room and show the next generation of Oilers what it takes to be successful in the NHL.  So far it's been pretty obvious that he has done all that and more.  Of course no one expects Smyth to keep up this 48 goal and 82 point pace, but he will almost certainly improve on the 23-24-47 he scored last year in LA.  Whether it's being back in an Oilers uniform that has him motivated or another case of a player in his contract year, Smyth is proving his worth.  Points aside, it's the so-called intangibles that he brings to this roster that makes up his true value to this team.

The early success of Ryan Smyth in his return to the Orange and Blue however raises an interesting debate.  When he first came back to the Oilers, Smyth made it abundantly clear that his desire was to re-sign in Edmonton and likely finish his career here.  Smyth will be 36 years old when his current deal expires.  Oilers fans assumed he would take a hometown discount on his next deal, but if he manages to get back to 30 goals this year, how much of a discount will it be?  With Hemsky's deal also set to expire and Hall, Eberle, and MPS a year away from RFA status, how much can the Oilers afford to offer Smyth on his next deal?  How much is leadership worth moving forward?  Ryan Smyth is definitely an important piece of this growing roster that the Oilers needs to keep around, but smart cap management will be key.  They say the intangibles are not easily quantifiable, but Tambellini and company will need to to do exactly that between now and this summer.

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