No argument besides this picture should be necessary. (Ian Tomlinson/Getty Images)
The weird thing is that I never even liked Ryan Smyth.
Well, that's putting it too simply. I liked the guy just fine; I'm an Edmonton Oilers fan and therefore liking Ryan Smyth is built into my DNA. But he was never one of my favourite Oilers. There was always Todd Marchant, Fernando Pisani, Ales Hemsky, Boris Mironov, Janne Niinimaa, Mike Grier... always someone else who guaranteed that Smyth would, to an extent, be the "and the rest" of my heart's Gilligan's Island.
I wrote a hundred thousand words on how Marchant, not Smyth, is my favourite post-dynasty Oiler. I wrote another hundred thousand words defending the trade which sent Smyth packing. I have nothing riding on wanting the guy back.
So why am I convulsing with joy at news Smyth might be demanding a trade back to Edmonton?
I don't know. Smyth is clearly a legitimate top-two left wing but it's not like we can hang on to his mullet and he'll pull us into the playoffs. He'll make this team better: he can kill penalties, score ugly goals, get useful assists, and do other things that this team badly needs, but he isn't Peter Forsberg in his prime. Moreover, bearing in mind that we traded Smyth almost four years ago, he'll be returning to a locker room with Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, and a bunch of guys he's never met.
None if this in any way dims my enthusiasm. As Steve Tambellini refuses to be drawn on making an offer and the organization's usual sycophants talks about how we don't need Smyth because we have Ryan Jones, I'm ready to go onto street corners handing out pro-Smyth pamphlets. If the Oilers don't make the move I might round up some Vancouver anarchists and go burn Rexall Place down. Bringing in Smyth seems so astronomically, flabbergastingly obviously a good idea that there's no way Steve Tambellini will do it.
Now, I've heard some people say that we're too crowded at left wing. Some of these people have a great deal of respect in the hockey community. Some of them get paid to give their opinions and one of them is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. I would like to address a few words to these dignified, highly-esteemed gentlemen.
First off, shut up. You are stupid. I hate to labour a point, but we've finished last overall twice in a fucking row. That is not a thing teams with loads of talent do. Taylor Hall rang up 42 points in 65 games last year, which is fine, but he also ended the season hurt and we probably shouldn't play the hell out of him immediately. Magnus Paajarvi got 34 points in 82 games and was -13, which for a top-two left wing is absolutely not fine. Ryan Jones is Ryan Jones. Jean-Francois Jacques is one of the twenty worst regular players in NHL history. Linus Omark is probably best off at right wing. Liam Reddox is in Europe. Andrew Cogliano is, inexplicably, still a centre.
If you look at that list and can't find room for Ryan Smyth then you are beyond my help. Smyth's 47 points with Los Angeles last year would have made him Edmonton's leading scorer and his 23 goals would also have been first. Of course, he'd have been behind Hall, Eberle, and Hemsky had they been healthy, but Smyth would still be a leading member of this team on offensive numbers alone. Add in his defense (superior to any Oiler in the top six except Horcoff and possibly Gagner) and his value is obvious. Thunderingly obvious. So obvious that when a so-called Oilers fan or beat writer says they don't see it, I want to force them into a bathtub and throw a hair dryer in after them.
Waah, but he'll take ice time away from the kids! Humbug. If trading for Ryan Smyth means that Paajarvi gets third-line minutes and learns the NHL game at a reasonable rate then that's a plus, not a minus! The best teams don't throw their second-tier prospects to the wolves and hope for the best and without help on left wing that'll be what we have to do.
Here's another argument from the devil's advocate. Smyth turned 35 in February. Whether I like it or not, this is a rebuilding team that, even in the best-case scenario, is going to need a couple years to become truly competitive. What are the odds that a 36-year-old Smyth is going to push this team into competitiveness? He's an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year; if we wait we can get him for free without changing anything long-term.
This is reasonable if not quite accurate. Smyth's enthusiasm to sign a discount contract with the Oilers would probably be dimmed if Tambellini was clearly so lukewarm on acquiring him. It's said that the Kings are asking for hilariously low prices, like mid-round draft picks, and obviously Smyth's salary cap hit is no problem for this team. The Oilers are currently well under the NHL salary floor: they've got to add somebody and why not a talented player who's beloved locally, is good in the dressing room, and desperately wants to be here?
For the love of the hockey gods, the guy reportedly requested a trade to Edmonton. I'm not sure we fully appreciate this. Apparently Ryan Smyth sat in Los Angeles with a good playoff team that has an outside chance at making some noise in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Sitting in the beautiful California summer, he looked north to a city he knows well, assuming he could see the city through the cloud of mosquitos tormenting its residents. He would see a team that's finished dead last in the NHL two years running, that's selling tickets based on a promised "rebuild" that's so far produced nothing but wasted entry-level contracts, serious injuries, and a bunch of loathsome, overpaid old men bolstered by the thinnest streaks of real but overwhelmed character. And he said "yes, I want that".
You know how people said "Ryan Smyth is a guy you can go to war with"? It turns out we can still go to war with him even when our army has spent four years retreating. In fact, it turns out that he can't leave his cushy California gig to join that battle quickly enough.
Sure, his cap figure is higher than his value. What of it? We're below the salary floor anyway; we're gonna have to sign somebody for the rest of this season. Which marquee free agents are we signing this summer who we need to save the money for? He makes a little too much money, but if we're willing to pay Sheldon Souray to sit in Hershey because he dared say what we're all thinking then we should bloody well be willing to pay Ryan Smyth.
I admit it, I'm getting pretty worked up over a phantom. We don't even know that Smyth has actually demanded a trade (Smyth himself has denied it, proving at minimum that he's better at public relations than Chris Pronger). It could be a bit of misinterpreted gossip turned off-season talking point. All the same, Steve Tambellini should be running the mother of all phone bills trying to make this happen. There's no conceivable reason on this Earth why the Oilers wouldn't want to trade for Ryan Smyth apart from a refusal to win hockey games.