Ryan Smyth: Will He Return to the Edmonton Oilers?

Karl ParkinsonContributor IIJune 21, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  Ryan Smyth #94 of the Los Angeles Kings attempts to screen Devan Dubnyk #40 of the Edmonton Oilers at the Staples Center on January 15, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

It was four years ago, deadline day 2007, that Ryan Smyth was sent packing to the NY Islanders because Kevin Lowe was too cheap to give him an extra $100,000. In exchange, Lowe received a package that can generously be described as crap, crap and more crap.

Now it appears that Smytty, as he was known in Edmonton, may be coming back to finish his career with the team that drafted him sixth overall back in 1994. Bob McKenzie is reporting that the 35-year-old has indicated to the Kings that his preference would be to play out the final year of his contract in Edmonton if a deal can be worked out.

I'll have some thoughts and analysis coming up after I savior the notion of a player actually wanting to play in Edmonton.

Why would Smyth want to leave Los Angeles for Edmonton?

I don't know. Ryan Smyth grew up in Banff cheering for the Oilers. When they drafted him, it was a dream come true. His most productive and, one could argue, his best years came when he wore the copper and blue. Maybe he just wants to come home.

Perhaps he sees the writing on the wall. As talented as the Kings are, they are most likely not going to win the cup next year. The Kings have a glut of talented youngsters working their way up the development charts who are going to be pushing for ice time. Lombardi already traded for Dustin Penner in February, and as unproductive as he was, believe me when I say that right now he's a better player than Smyth.

In a year's time, Smyth will be 36 and it's entirely possible that the Kings will no longer have a need for him on their roster. As much as it's every player's dream to win the Stanley Cup, maybe Smyth has accepted that it's probably not going to happen for him—at least in LA—and he wants to have one last go with his childhood team before riding off into the sunset.

Why would LA trade him?

Again, I don't know. Smyth was fourth on their team in scoring, so it's not like he's unimportant.

That being said, Dean Lombardi may feel that there are better options available in free agency. Guys like Brooks Laich and Scottie Upshall can both do what Smyth does and will both probably do it for cheaper. Maybe Lombardi has some inside info that's informed him that Brad Richards is planning on coming to LA in July, and he needs to clear some cap space.

LA is a sexy city with a young hockey team that's only going to get better. I think it's entirely possible that Lombardi might take a calculated risk that one or more free agents will be willing to sign there in the summer. 

Does it make sense for the Oilers?

Yes, it does, with the caveat of as long as they don't give up a lot to get him. Smyth's 23 goals and 47 points this past year would have led the Oilers in both goals and points. He played against the second toughest quality of competition on the Kings last year and was able to outshoot and outscore them. He is a veteran presence who can be counted on to be sound defensively while contributing on the scoreboard. What's not to like?

If the plan is to have Taylor Hall play center in the fall, as I believe it is, then adding Smyth makes even more sense. To successfully convert Hall into a center, he's going to need experienced wingers who know what they are doing. Rolling Hall out with Eberle and Paajarvi on his flanks will fail miserably. As talented as those players are, that line would get eaten alive by the Sedins and Datsyuks of the league.

Rolling Hall out with Hemsky and Smyth on his wings? That might actually work. They can teach him some of the finer points of the game and cover up some of his inevitable defensive blunders.

If Hall stays on the wing, then having Hall-Smyth-Paajarvi on the LW would actually make that a position of strength for the Oilers. 

What about his contract?

Cap space is the one thing that the Oilers have in spades right now. In fact, they have to spend $10 million over the summer just to reach the floor for next season. Smyth has a $6.25 million cap hit this coming year, but that doesn't matter. This will be the last year of his contract, so it won't be a hindrance when it comes time to re-sign Hall, Pajaarvi, Eberle and Omark in two years.

If Smyth still feels he can play after his contract runs out, then the Oilers can keep signing him to cheap one-year deals like Joe Sakic or Nicklas Lidstrom at the end of their careers. There is no downside to this deal from a contract standpoint.

Trade for him with what?

Here lies the rub: This deal only makes sense if Steve Tambellini can get him for cheap. A similar deal occurred last year when Simon Gagne was dealt to Tamba Bay in exchange for Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick. Steve Tambellini should offer something similar.

Say, Kurtis Foster and the third-round pick LA gave up in the Penner deal. Tambo could bump that pick up to a second rounder and throw in a prospect like Taylor Chorney if he has to but nothing more.

I know I spent the last 400 words singing the praises of Ryan Smyth, but the reality is that he's an aging player on the back nine of his career. As much as I want him back, he's not worth giving up very much for.

You really want him back, don't you?

Yes, I really do. The Oilers I grew up cheering for weren't the juggernauts of the 80s. They were the scrappy, financially deprived teams of the late 1990s, early 2000s that considered qualifying for the playoffs to be a monumental accomplishment.

Doug Weight and Ryan Smyth were the only two stars on those teams, and after Weight was sold off in 2001, only Smyth remained. After coming up short in 2006, I was (foolishly) convinced that Smyth would remain an Oiler for the rest of his career. When he was traded only a year later over $100,000 I was shocked, betrayed and angry.

At some point Steve Tambellini has to stop falling in love with lottery picks and make a concerted effort to improve the product on the ice. Acquiring Ryan Smyth will be a good start.

Update: Jim Matheson is refuting the story, but McKenzie is standing by his sources and Kings reporter Helene Elliot has tweeted that talks have occurred between the two teams. Where there's smoke there's fire...


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