The Edmonton Oilers completed their second Ryan Smyth trade of the weekend earlier today, sending their 7th round pick in 2012 and Colin Fraser to Dean Lombardi's Los Angeles Kings in exchange for the man with the mullet. The trade is a good one for all parties with the Kings getting the cap space that they need, Smyth getting to come back to Edmonton where he wants to be, and the Oilers getting a player that obviously fits in with what the team needs at this time. So in some ways, it's surprising that the deal was so hard to complete, but credit where due, Steve Tambellini understood his negotiating position well and managed to do better here than I would have for sure. I'm not sure what the original asking price was from Lombardi, but I guarantee you that "worst possible draft pick and player I don't want" wasn't it. It's unfortunate that Gilbert Brule had to be traded an untraded in the process, but in the end, I'm confident that Steve Tambellini handled this situation very well.
Of course, the Oilers didn't just get a hockey player back with this trade. I still remember the day that Smyth was sent away, and it seemed at the time like the Oilers lost their identity too. Of course, a lot has changed since Smyth left: just two players remain on the roster, the coaching staff is completely different, the training staff is completely different, and the Edmonton Investors Group has been replaced by Daryl Katz. Still, I can't shake the feeling that the return of Smyth is really the return of "my" Oilers.
Vic Ferrari told a great story a week or so back on Pat's blog (it's the first comment) that was simply fantastic, and because I don't think it spoils too much of the story, and may encourage you to read it if you haven't already, I'll just say that Ryan Smyth was my Daphne too. Of course, my response was quite different, a step away from fandom and toward a more honest engagement with the game that seeks to understand more of what's happening. A 5-0 blowout is now an opportunity to see how the game changes rather than a reason to turn the damn T.V. off since we aren't winning this one anyway, which isn't to say that I'm ambivalent about the Oilers winning and losing, just that the emotional connection isn't really there.
That emotional connection is easy to have in one's youth, so it was never a problem then, but as I got older, I came to value the connection I'd made with particular players, and the guy in that regard was Smyth. Whether it was Coffey or Gretzky or Messier or Weight or Joseph, it seemed like the best Oilers always moved along, and those that didn't - your Greggs and Niinimaas - were sent to the glue factory. Ryan Smyth was going to be different, the beloved Oiler who would stay his whole career. When that didn't happen, my emotional connection to the team diminished, and I realized it was missing bit by bit as time wore on. Her article spoke loud and clear the first time I read it, but every time I revisit Ellen's wonderful article, it speaks again:
Hockey teams do not, generally speaking, have souls, nor do they need them. Players, maybe, have souls, but their souls, their hearts, are entirely their own- their passion remains theirs, exclusively, we just get to watch it. For the players, for the management, and especially for the fans, it is sufficient that the team be comprised of talented, committed individuals who can play an exciting game and win regularly. Those are the only real functions of a hockey team: to play, to entertain, and to win, and they can be accomplished easily with a revolving-door roster and some cagey managing.
Nevertheless, sometimes, something happens to take root in the erg, and sometimes, equally rarely, some hockey teams develop a soul. There is no consistent pattern or predictability or process to how it happens. It is sheer luck, or fate, if you believe in that sort of thing. Some patch of sand stays solid enough, long enough, the right seed lands there at the right point in the season, and eventually there’s a tree where there absolutely shouldn’t be. And it hangs on in that spot, spreads out its roots, stabilizes the surrounding sand, and it becomes a place. People notice it, remember it, travelers use it to navigate, playing children use it as a meeting spot, tourists take pictures of it. It is only a tree, nothing very remarkable in the wide world, but in the context of the erg it’s an attraction, an object of fascination and interest. It is the only place that is actually a place, that was there yesterday and will be there tomorrow.
The Edmonton Oilers have looked like a blank desert for a long time now. Today, at least for me, the team looks just a little bit more like a place I know, a place I love, and a place that I can come back to. Welcome back, Smytty.