Bob McKenzie set off a frenzy among Oilers fans today when he informed them and the rest of the hockey world that forward Ryan Smyth wanted to spend the 2011-12 season somewhere other than Los Angeles – specifically, that if a trade could be arranged, he wanted to return to the team that he started his career with, the Edmonton Oilers.
Smyth remains a beloved figure in Edmonton. He was drafted by the team, spent most of his career in Edmonton, and was one of the few productive scorers that the small budget Oilers managed to retain during the lean pre-lockout years. His departure sent shockwaves through the fan base, and generated anger of a kind that even five consecutive seasons without playoff hockey has failed to.
Taking the emotion out of it, does it make sense for the Oilers to be interested in orchestrating Smyth’s return?
Personally, I think it does.
From a business perspective, no other move the Oilers could make would generate the kind of good will among fans that the return of Ryan Smyth would. The fans have been patient as the team has imploded, and they’ve been patient as the rebuild has commenced, but the Oilers are still a long way from the finish line and patience is not an attitude that will hold out indefinitely. Bringing Ryan Smyth back for a return tour of duty could not possibly hurt in that regard.
From a hockey perspective, there have been a few objections raised. Let’s consider those.
Terry Jones, the HHOF reporter with the Edmonton Sun, raised two points against a Smyth acquisition on his Twitter feed: first, that Smyth is “damn near done,” and second that “left wing is locked” (presumably meaning that with Hall and Paajarvi, the Oilers have no room for Smyth).
The first point is an easy one to refute. Certainly, Smyth is 35 years old, but he’s still a top-three forward with a very good team in Los Angeles. Beyond that, here’s how he would have ranked in terms of scoring numbers on the Oilers over the last three seasons:
- 2010-11: First in goals, first in points
- 2009-10: Second in goals, second in points
- 2008-09: First in goals, second in points
The second point is more interesting, but equally refutable. Despite the Oilers’ rebuilding status, they aren’t giving all of their minutes on the wings to the kids: last season, Dustin Penner and Ryan Jones combined for a little under 38 hours of combined playing time. Penner’s been sent away, while Jones played far more minutes than a player of his caliber should have. Surely, somewhere in those 38 hours, there is room to toss some minutes to a winger of Smyth’s caliber.
Meanwhile, for a team that preaches a need for character almost above all else, Smyth should be an automatic decision. There’s never been any question about his work ethic, and he provides the Oilers with a unique combination of attributes: character and leadership combined with respect for and history with one of the worst teams in the game today.
Smyth’s request offers the Oilers an opportunity to right the wrong that was his departure, a chance to allow a guy who was great for Edmonton to finish his career there, and above all else a talented hockey player who can provide both on-ice spark and off-ice leadership for a young and all too often inept club.