Ryan Smyth, Third-Line Winger

Jonathan Willis
April 18 2012 12:21PM

The conventional wisdom among some fans and media is that if Ryan Smyth wants to return as an Oiler, he’ll need to accept third-line minutes and third-line pay.

Ryan Smyth finished second among Oilers forwards this season in both total ice-time and time on ice per game. As was the case with Shawn Horcoff, however, the picture becomes more interesting once we break that ice-time down into its components.

The following is the ice-time for wingers who played more than 40 games with the Oilers this season, ranked by even-strength ice-time:

Wingers GP EVTOI/GP PPTOI/GP SHTOI/GP TOI/GP
Ales Hemsky 69 15:25 2:08 0:02 17:36
Taylor Hall 61 15:06 3:03 0:02 18:13
Ryan Smyth 82 14:26 2:28 2:09 19:04
Jordan Eberle 78 14:24 3:00 0:10 17:35
Ryan Jones 79 12:06 0:51 2:28 15:25
Magnus Paajarvi 41 11:56 0:12 1:01 13:10
Lennart Petrell 60 8:29 0:01 1:07 9:38
Ben Eager 63 8:29 0:03 0:00 8:32
Darcy Hordichuk 43 4:20 0:00 0:00 4:20

Ales Hemsky and Taylor Hall were the coach’s go-to choices on right wing and left wing, respectively, when it came to handing out even-strength ice-time. Hall will almost certainly fill the same role next season, while I expect Hemsky’s ice-time to be nicked in favour of Jordan Eberle.

Eberle and Smyth are really in the same spot on the chart here – just two seconds per game separates them. Though the enduring image of Smyth in 2011-12 is welded to Horcoff’s hip on a checking line, he saw ice-time all over the place over the course of the season, including some time on the scoring lines.

Then there’s a drop-off. Ryan Smyth is a better hockey player than Ryan Jones, while Magnus Paajarvi spent half the season in the AHL and couldn’t score when he was in the NHL. Neither should have a realistic chance of entering training camp next fall ahead of Smyth on the depth chart (assuming the Oilers opt to re-sign Smyth, something that is less than certain).

The wild cards in terms of even-strength ice-time are a) the first overall pick and b) Teemu Hartikainen. It’s worth remembering that despite the latter's promise he’s never equaled the 46 points Smyth put up this year even in the AHL or Finland, that he had five points in 17 NHL games this year, and that his two-way game isn’t even in the same ballpark as Smyth’s right now. I like the prospect – I like Paajarvi too, for that matter – but realistically he hasn’t done nearly enough to displace Smyth entering next season.

The first overall pick is something else, but even here there are no certainties. Though Yakupov is the consensus choice, the Oilers might move down and take someone they feel is a better fit for organizational need. Also, while Yakupov does shoot left, he plays right wing – maybe the Oilers would move him over, and maybe they wouldn’t, but it’s something to keep in mind when considering him as a replacement for Smyth’s even-strength minutes. Finally, even if the Oilers do draft Yakupov and do move him to left wing, they might feel it best to ease him into the NHL, just as they did with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins this season. If they choose to do that, he won’t be taking minutes from Hall or Smyth, but rather from guys like Paajarvi and Hartikainen.

In short, the obstacle to bumping Smyth down to a designated third-line role is that outside of Taylor Hall, there simply is not an established candidate to slot in ahead of him right now. As it stands, he’s the Oilers’ number two left wing with a bullet.

Then there’s his role on the power play. Smyth has made his living for a long time as one of the league’s best men in front of the net on the man advantage. Horcoff took that role on the top unit this year, so Smyth mostly saw time on the second unit. Does it make sense to bump Smyth off the power play? I’d argue that it might if the Oilers draft Yakupov, but otherwise there isn’t a logical replacement on the team – the Oilers used seven forwards with regularity and the eighth/ninth options were Linus Omark and Eric Belanger. Omark’s heading out of town and Belanger’s not nearly as good as Smyth in the role.

Could Smyth’s penalty kill time be cut back, in favour of an Anton Lander, Lennart Petrell or Jordan Eberle? It could, but it seems dubious to assert that it makes sense for the team to do so, particularly if they plan to use the top power play unit more and feed Eberle additional even-strength minutes. The coaching staff also showed a clear preference for Smyth on the PK over Lander and Petrell this season.

Put bluntly, Ryan Smyth isn’t a third-liner on this team. Some of his minutes could be shaved a little bit – especially at even-strength – but if he’s back it doesn’t make sense for him to lose his job out of training camp to the candidates currently in the system. There aren’t four wingers ahead of him at evens, there aren’t candidates pushing for his power play job, and he’s likely a better PK option than the alternatives.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Charlie Huddy
April 18 2012, 12:28PM
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FIST class mullet. Second line winger.

Edit: Dammit!

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#2 Bucknuck
April 18 2012, 12:52PM
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In other words the Oil need to get better on LW.

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#3 Spydyr
April 18 2012, 12:27PM
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Ryan Smith burned out after the fist half of the season.......how long can he last in the playoffs.....not long me thinks.....to many miles on the old body.

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#4 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
April 18 2012, 12:46PM
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Don't see any problem bringing him back. He may be third on the depth chart before the season gets going but he won't be there very long. Could be Christmas before Hall is 100%. Moving Hemsky to the left side might keep Smyth at bay, but behind Hall, the Oilers don't have much going yet.

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#5 PaperDesigner
April 18 2012, 12:46PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Ryan Smith burned out after the fist half of the season.......how long can he last in the playoffs.....not long me thinks.....to many miles on the old body.

Did he? Or did it have more to do with a drop-off in luck?

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#6 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
April 18 2012, 12:46PM
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Don't see any problem bringing him back. He may be third on the depth chart before the season gets going but he won't be there very long. Could be Christmas before Hall is 100%. Moving Hemsky to the left side might keep Smyth at bay, but behind Hall, the Oilers don't have much going yet.

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#7 CaptainLander
April 18 2012, 12:48PM
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The best option is to find a big skilled gritty maybe mean and experience winger for Nuge and Ebs.

If one is not available I am happy with Smitty on the number 2 or 3, killing penalties and doing what he does best in front of the net on the second line power play.

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#8 jdubbs
April 18 2012, 01:08PM
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i think they need to eliminate Smytty on the PK and save his legs to stand in front of the net and dig the corners on the PP1 and PP2 ala Holmstrom for Detroit. the pk time could be picked up by Eberle (who did pk in his rookie year) and Lander or MPS and bring Nuge and Hall along slowly. then you can pay him Holmstrom like money (2.2m 2011 1.5m 2012)

i don't think the stars should sit the bench during the PK. like in Vancouver where the Sedins can sit for many minutes on end and can totally take them out of a whole period because they are cold.

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#9 LoDog
April 18 2012, 01:15PM
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Well he may be the second line LW but if he is we are doomed. Under no circumstances should he be paid like a second line LW.

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#10 R.E.
April 18 2012, 01:16PM
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"...the Oilers might move down and take someone they feel is a better fit for organizational need."

Forget it. Oilers will only come away with a 3rd rounder or two.

The trade down from #1 has only happened 4 times since the adoption of the lottery in 1995.

1999: Tampa trades #1 for #4 and two 3rd rounders of the same draft year.

2003: Florida trades #1 for #3 and options to switch picks in 2004. (They finished last anyway.)

2004: Florida trades #1 & #73 for #3 & #55. (Then Vancouver traded #1 to move down to #2 for a conditional 3rd.)

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#11 PaperDesigner
April 18 2012, 01:26PM
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Look, if the Oilers go into the season with Yakupov and Smyth as the #2 and #3 options respectively, I'm rather content with that. Yakupov might struggle, or he might score 30 goals right off the bat. Either way, you have a player who can step up from the third line into the second, and give the Oilers something they have very desperately needed, and rarely had--depth enough to have players further down in the line-up than they could theoretically play. How nice would it be to have a couple of key injuries NOT completely expose the team?

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#12 CC
April 18 2012, 01:29PM
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I'm kind of of the opinion they should rotate the LW throughout the line-up.

If you have the following C-RW combo's you can get creative on LW.

RNH-Eberle Gagner-Yakupov Horcoff(or replacement hopefully Stoll)-Hemsky

Then rotate; Hall, Smyth, PRV, Eager, Jones, Hartikanen, Belanger, potential free agent, ect .. throughout the lineup. Hall, IMO, can be a force whomever he plays with. The others get rewarded for playing well when they move up lines.

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#13 Oil Bog
April 18 2012, 01:41PM
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If Smyth is willing to take a Bertuzzi like deal and willing to accept 2nd, 3rd or 4th line duty as required he is a good fit still. If Smyth wants more money and more term then I don't think he fits into the "re-build" if that is what management is still selling. Eventually PRV and Hartikainen (or others) have to be given the chance to win that spot. As stated previously, if Smyth is our second best LW now with no serious competition for his spot, then it does seem a stretch to consider this team a playoff contender. I don't see Smyth playing a 2nd line role with most of the successful playoff teams of this year.

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#14 Tony_Clifton
April 18 2012, 01:43PM
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we need beef on the wings! smyth's value really comes when the play is in the offensive zone and he's parked in front of the net. he needs to be in the top 6, not checking the other teams best lines. there just doesn't seem to be room for him with the oil. our bottom six needs to get bigger, meaner, and faster... i just don't see room for smitty

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#15 Spydyr
April 18 2012, 01:53PM
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PaperDesigner wrote:

Did he? Or did it have more to do with a drop-off in luck?

Well after watching almost every game this year my opinion:

Luck had nothing to do with it.He looked tired,worn out and slow.

Since no injury was mentioned what is left?

To many hard nights in front of the net has caught up with him.

If he looks like that In January what will he have left when the real season begins in April?

Have you noticed the intensity in the first round of the playoffs?

The Oiler team this year was not even close to matching what is needed.

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#16 bazmagoo
April 18 2012, 02:11PM
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R.E. wrote:

"...the Oilers might move down and take someone they feel is a better fit for organizational need."

Forget it. Oilers will only come away with a 3rd rounder or two.

The trade down from #1 has only happened 4 times since the adoption of the lottery in 1995.

1999: Tampa trades #1 for #4 and two 3rd rounders of the same draft year.

2003: Florida trades #1 for #3 and options to switch picks in 2004. (They finished last anyway.)

2004: Florida trades #1 & #73 for #3 & #55. (Then Vancouver traded #1 to move down to #2 for a conditional 3rd.)

It's definitely risky business to trade down for the Oilers, but I think I've figured out one trade that would make sense. I'm sure someone has come up with this already but:

#1 pick plus Magnus Paajarvi to Columbus for #2 pick and Ryan Johanssen.

This trade could work. It would allow the Oil to draft Ryan Murray, and get a tall future #2 centre behind RNH. It would allow Columbus to draft the Yak and have a left wing prospect to potentially fill some of the minutes left when Rick Nash departs.

Part of me agrees with Jonathan's assessment of Ryan Smyth as a #2 left winger on this team, this would leave the top 6 forwards as RNH, Hall, Ebs, Hemmer, Johanssen and Smyth.

I'd hate to lose Samwise Gagner, but maybe we can trade him for that elusive top 4 young d-man we are desperately craving. Or maybe Sam can learn to play the wing, never hurts to have natural centre's who can play the wing in my opinion.

What does Oilers Nation think of that trade?

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#17 Dan the Man
April 18 2012, 02:28PM
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I'd move Smyth into Horcoff's spot (in front of the net)on the 1st PP unit and reduce his time at even strength and the PK slightly.

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#18 Dipstick
April 18 2012, 03:03PM
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Tony_Clifton wrote:

we need beef on the wings! smyth's value really comes when the play is in the offensive zone and he's parked in front of the net. he needs to be in the top 6, not checking the other teams best lines. there just doesn't seem to be room for him with the oil. our bottom six needs to get bigger, meaner, and faster... i just don't see room for smitty

Until Hall returns to form after the surgery, Smyth is our first line center. Once he gets supplanted from the top 6, I might agree with you. If they stick to 1 year contracts, they are really not risking a whole lot.

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#19 Dman09
April 18 2012, 03:54PM
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Dipstick wrote:

Until Hall returns to form after the surgery, Smyth is our first line center. Once he gets supplanted from the top 6, I might agree with you. If they stick to 1 year contracts, they are really not risking a whole lot.

Wow Smyth is a 1C, did I miss something. You have some pretty high hopes for a 36 year old player that hasn't played center before.

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#20 Dipstick
April 18 2012, 04:07PM
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Dman09 wrote:

Wow Smyth is a 1C, did I miss something. You have some pretty high hopes for a 36 year old player that hasn't played center before.

Oops, meant left wing. I would commend you on a good catch, but my mistake was so lame that you deserve no props. ;)

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#21 15w40
April 18 2012, 04:12PM
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What about the story that Smyth was already offered a Bertuzzi type deal at the trade deadline and to date hasn't signed. That's a little over 2M per season. If he is expecting a good deal more than that I'm thinking he won't be playing on any line in Edmonton. I can't see the Oilers going for much more than 2.75M on a one year deal or 4.5M on a 2 year deal. If he is looking to get a similar deal to Hemsky he is gonzo. He must be waiting to see what the market outside of Edmonton will bring on July 1.

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#22 Hammers
April 18 2012, 04:27PM
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Sorry Obviously you think along the lines of Renney . For me you start the year with RNH EBS & Smyth ( if signed ) 35 games in you make the change with either Hemsky , Magnus or Yak on that line.The 2nd would start with Gagner Hemsky & Hall and the 3rd Horc with Yak & Magnus . He did it with Hall & Ebs and he can do it again . I don't see them keeping all three of Belanger , Jones & Eager but if they do they get 4th line minutes with Hartk & Pettrell the extra forwards . If they trade 1 of the above 3 then Lander comes in the mix . I would hope either Magnus or Yak take Smyth's spot before Christmas . Lets face it if Magnus goes the next step Gagner goes & Hall at center. The possibilities are endless . The problem is can Tambo get us 2 decent "D" .

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#23 Bulging Twine
April 18 2012, 04:55PM
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Enlightening JDub.

So would you look for an upgrade then at the #2 LW spot?

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#24 Tony_Clifton
April 18 2012, 05:46PM
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@Dman09

it's also concerning that we don't have one centre who knows how to lay down a hit or use their muscle. tambo needs to focus on mass upfront, and then obviously the D.

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#25 Wax Man Riley
April 18 2012, 05:49PM
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CaptainLander wrote:

The best option is to find a big skilled gritty maybe mean and experience winger for Nuge and Ebs.

If one is not available I am happy with Smitty on the number 2 or 3, killing penalties and doing what he does best in front of the net on the second line power play.

I hear this line a lot, to find a "big, skilled, gritty, maybe mean, and experienced winger."

I always wonder who that player is, because he sounds like the perfect NHLer. Who is it though? I hear "Lucic-type" and I want to throw my computer since there is only one Lucic. The Oilers experimented with Coke Machines, and it got them M.A. Pouliot among other winners.

There is only one Lucic, and I don't see him leaving Boston.

Backes? David Jones maybe? Huselius? I'd love to ply one of the big 3 out of Anaheim.

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#26 DrDave
April 18 2012, 08:04PM
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Funny how the NFL values top draft picks so much more than in the NHL.

St Louis traded #2 for Washington's #6, next 2 year's 1st round picks and next year's 2nd.

I wish we could get that kind of ransom for this pick, then it might be worth not getting Yak.

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#27 Saytalk
April 18 2012, 08:11PM
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Great article. I agree that Smyth needs to play less, and his performance would probably improve over the course of an entire season if he wasn't over-played and worn out after the first 40 games.

But... the problem is that without Smyth, our skill has no grit and our grit has no skill. This is indicative of Lowe and Tambellini's 1980's-style thinking of having a top 6 filled with wimpy finesse players and a bottom 6 filled with talentless grinders and goons. Who builds teams like this anymore?

The coaching staff needs to train the skilled players to consistently go to the net for rebounds, screens and deflections, and go hard to the boards to win battles for the puck, and even deliver a hit once in a while. Smyth gets all that ice-time because he's the only player with any skill that makes any effort to do this.

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#29 Robin Brownlee
April 18 2012, 09:09PM
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"Though Yakupov is the consensus choice, the Oilers might move down and take someone they feel is a better fit for organizational need."

It will take an insane overpay from somebody and/or the kind of bargaining skills Tambellini has yet to diplay for the Oilers not to keep the first pick and take Yakupov.

"As it stands, he’s the Oilers’ number two left wing with a bullet."

With time on special teams, Smyth (if he's signed at all) might hang on to the second-most minutes among left wingers when we add everything up, but "with a bullet" means he's ascending rapidly, and that's certainly not the case. Smyth is headed the other direction.

"Ryan Smyth is a better hockey player than Ryan Jones . . ."

Yes. Yes, he is. The margin, however, is nowhere near what it was just two years ago. Jones is coming off his best NHL season and entering his prime years. Smyth? It's quite possible, I'd say likely, Jones will play a part in taking some of Smyth's minutes with stints in the top six.

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#30 Elaine
April 18 2012, 10:47PM
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Smyth was excellent for the 1st half but after that he certainly didn't play like someone that should be on the 2nd line. To me he is a 3rd line winger who can move up at times to 2nd. We must improve the bottom six and if we only make one or two changes we are headed for another lottery pick. I'm not convinced that Ladner or Petrelle can be considered for a spot on the team next year. I also feel we MUST get bigger.

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#31 Tony_Clifton
April 18 2012, 11:27PM
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Elaine wrote:

Smyth was excellent for the 1st half but after that he certainly didn't play like someone that should be on the 2nd line. To me he is a 3rd line winger who can move up at times to 2nd. We must improve the bottom six and if we only make one or two changes we are headed for another lottery pick. I'm not convinced that Ladner or Petrelle can be considered for a spot on the team next year. I also feel we MUST get bigger.

unless his ass is in the goalie's face, he's useless. no need for him to be on a checking line... we'd be better off with a physical player with speed, a good stick, and who throws hits.

did you watch him the last half of the year, when he was on a checking line? he was completely useless. he was scoring and making a difference when he was on one of the top 2 lines.

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#32 Tony_Clifton
April 18 2012, 11:32PM
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@Wax Man Riley

i totally agree with you that it's ridiculous to keep suggesting a "lucic" type! not gonna happen. but, what CAN happen, is adding some impact on the bottom two lines - someone like tootoo, beach, or stewart (as long as he's not a party animal like torres was).

keep eager, so we have 3 or 4 brutal guys who can go out and make a physical difference. It can just be one guy. We need 3 or 4 of these guys.

hall and yakupov will both be pretty physical guys in our top six - add in hartikainan and we're ok in the top six. it's the bottom 6 that needs to be transformed.

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#33 PaperDesigner
April 19 2012, 01:09AM
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Spydyr wrote:

Well after watching almost every game this year my opinion:

Luck had nothing to do with it.He looked tired,worn out and slow.

Since no injury was mentioned what is left?

To many hard nights in front of the net has caught up with him.

If he looks like that In January what will he have left when the real season begins in April?

Have you noticed the intensity in the first round of the playoffs?

The Oiler team this year was not even close to matching what is needed.

You know what he looked like early in the year? Slow. It just didn't seem that way early because he was scoring goals. It's a trick of perception--when he stopped scoring, people started looking for flaws, noticed his footspeed, and attributed the drop-off to vague things like tired, because that's an easy out for an older player.

Smyth has slowed down. Which is why he isn't a first line player anymore. But his season reminded me of what MacTavish said about the cycle of the twenty goal scorer--sometimes they look like forty goal scorers, and sometimes they look like ten goal scorers.

Bottom line, let's not be too hasty to dump on a guy who had a moderately successful season amongst a bunch of players who were not nearly as good.

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#34 Robin Brownlee
April 19 2012, 07:18AM
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Speaking for myself, I'm not dumping on Smyth. I've known him, travelled with him and watched him play since he was a rookie. I respect him.

Ryan has always willed himself to outperform his natural skills. He works. He hustles. He doesn't quit. He'll spit out teeth, as we've seen, and come back for more. He is fearless.

All that said, every player reaches a point where will and work ethic and desire give way to time and age. The mind and the heart is willing, but the body won't respond as it once did. We all wish that wasn't true, but it is. Ryan has a lot of hard miles on him. He's taken a beating. He isn't a big man.

It's not about "being slow." Ryan was never particularly fast. It's about a subtle erosion of everything. Ability to hold position in front of the net. The knack for getting leverage on a defender and winning puck battles. Getting a stick on the puck in traffic. Ryan can't do it the way he once did, no matter how willing he is to do the same things that have made him a terrific player for a long time. These aren't "vague things." They are reality. I'm not surprised Ryan got off to a great start this season because he was as pumped as I've ever seen him about coming back. That spurt masked where he's at in his career.

Like it or not (and I don't), we aren't seeing the cycle of a 20-goal scorer, which, when taken in context -- the ebb and flow of any particular season -- is one of MacT's most astute observations. At this point in Smyth's career it's more about the natural cycle of the life span of an athlete. Bigger picture stuff. A rare few, like Ray Whitney, Nick Lidstrom etc., defy time for awhile. They are the exception, not the rule.

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#35 Fresh Mess
April 19 2012, 08:03AM
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Give Smyth a take-it-or-leave-it offer of 1 year 2.5, or 2 years 1.9 per.

Give him a deadline of month end to accept or the offer is taken off the table.

Smyth needs to decide if he really wants to play here or chase an addidtional million for his bank account.

I think I know what he will choose.

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#36 madjam
April 19 2012, 08:16AM
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We are not a small squad with present lineup if you remove Gagner from squad . So who is responsible for rest of core ? The coaches again may take fall for this , but they did not sign those players to be honest . Three reasonably good coaches have been made the scapegoat for those misjudgements made by upper management . When that changes i'm sure we will become competitive again .

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#37 madjam
April 19 2012, 08:55AM
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Smyth's value might be expected to be high as with Horcoff and Hemsky , on the high side . Overspending for fleeting veterans seems to be our downfall . I'm inclined to think Smyth and his agent are looking for a Hemsky type deal or better. New management might change that modus operandi . Throwing big money at players has done little to advance our fortunes , and making our most expensive player our captain exemplifies that . Smyth would be nice to retain but at what price ? By our own signings should he expect anything less than Horcoff or Hemsky - not with the precidents they have been setting to be honest . Fiscal responsibility and restraint, and new direction with new management seems the likely course here , first and foremost .

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#38 Bulging Twine
April 19 2012, 01:56PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Brownlee, Would you bring him back in a #3 line role? Or do you think that it is time to move on?

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#39 Zamboni Driver
April 19 2012, 04:07PM
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If your second line LW is Ryan Smyth in 2012, then you're not very good.

heart and soul, bleeds Oiler blue, etc, etc. but them is the facts, he doesn't take a one year deal at not very much coin, then it's been nice knowing ya.

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#40 striatic
April 21 2012, 09:08AM
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not saying the Oilers should take a sledgehammer to the piggy bank for Smyth, but can we at least take a sledgehammer to the MYTH that the Oilers are "stacked on offense"

it's like with the Hemsky resigning. ok, you trade him for D. now who plays 2nd line RW? Linus "never played a ful NHL season" Omark?

Draft. Nail. Yakupov.

Smyth isn't going to be around forever. when he's gone, who plays 2nd line LW? Magnus "AHL" Paajarvi? Teemu "AHL" Hartikainen?

i love Ryan Jones, but he's the guy you don't feel horrible playing up and down the line up in response to players slumping or getting injured. if he's playing on the 2nd line for an entire season, something is wrong.

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