Every team has “that guy”. The kind of player that fans can all agree is the heart and soul of a team. For the Edmonton Oilers, that guy is Ryan Smyth. Ask anyone in Oil Country who the heart of their favourite team is, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t say 94.
Who could have guessed that the fresh looking kid from Banff would grow into the kind of player who would embody what it means to be an Oiler when they drafted him 6th overall at the 1994 Entry Draft?
Everyone knew he could play, putting up 138 points over 3 seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors, and another 86 points after he was drafted.
He was a player that fans watched come into his own, scoring 11 points in 48 games in a lockout shortened 94-95 season, and than an impressive 61 points in 82 games the following year. Smyth’s best season would come in 2000-01, when he scored 70 points.
But it wasn’t all about stats with Ryan Smyth. Fans loved the way he played the game. Hard nosed, going to the tough areas. If behind the net is Gretzky’s office, than surely the front of the net was Smytty’s. And who could ever forget when Smyth took a puck to the mouth in the 2006 playoffs against San Jose, losing three teeth, and came back to score the overtime winner? That moment alone turned Smyth into a legend in Edmonton.
So it should come as know surprise that what happened on February 27 in 2007 ripped the hearts out of every single Oilers fan. Ryan Smyth, traded to the New York Islanders for the underwhelming Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Mara, and a 1st round pick. Sure, the Oilers had lost their fair share of stars over the years. Pronger the summer before, Doug Weight in 2001, and of course, Gretzky in 88. But this was Ryan Smyth. He bled copper and blue. And he was gone.
Smyth would finish the season with the Islanders, and sign a long term deal with Colorado that summer, before eventually being traded to the LA Kings. And while 94 continued his career with those teams, the Oilers and their fans were moving on as well. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle were brought into the organization, with another 1st overall pick on the horizon.
It was during the 2011 Entry Draft when the rumours first started to surface. Could it be true? 94 was coming home? After a few hiccups, the trade was finally completed, sending Colin Fraser and a 7th round pick to LA, and bringing Smytty full circle, back to Edmonton. The fans loved it. In many people’s minds, Ryan Smyth should have never left in the first place.
His production may have declined, but again, its not about stats when it comes to Ryan Smyth. The Oilers have a young group of players, and having Smyth there to show them how to be professionals, and more importantly, what it means to be an Oiler, is just as important as chipping in a goal or two now and then. He’s not being leaned on for offense nearly as much as he was earlier in his career, and he does have a reduced role with the team these days. And with his contract up at the end of the year, many have asked what happens with Ryan Smyth. Do you trade him? Possibly, but at this stage in his career, the return on Smyth won’t be quite what it was in 2007. And to be fair, the Oilers should only trade him if he asks to go to a contender. At 37, with the style he plays, it’s only a matter of time before he calls it a career. Ryan Smyth has been a good soldier for the Oilers. He was, and to an extent, still is the epitome of what the Oilers stand for. He should be allowed to play out this deal, and perhaps even sign a one year deal for next season if he wishes to continue playing.
We’ve watched Ryan Smyth go from an 18 year old kid, to a 20 year veteran of the NHL. We’ve seen him at his highest point, winning Olympic gold in 2002, to the lowest point, watching the Carolina Hurricanes raise the Stanley Cup after Game 7 in 2006. We’ve been proud of him as he’s represented his country time and time again, most recently leading Canada to gold at the Spengler Cup in 2012. And to be sure, we all cried in 2007 when we thought we’d never see 94 on the back of an Oilers jersey ever again. Ryan Smyth is what being an Oiler is all about. This team has seen it’s fair share of legends and great players, but perhaps none that wear that jersey as proudly as Ryan Smyth does. And it’s for all these reasons that, when Ryan Smyth does decide to hang up his skates, he should do it as an Edmonton Oiler.