February 16 2013 10:00AM
For the Edmonton Oilers, Ryan Smyth and Ryan Whitney need to be a big part of this year's team. Their combined salaries ($6.25M) tell us these two players need to be in the heart of the order and to deliver. So far this season, the results have been disappointing, and coach Krueger responded with the most powerful weapon in his arsenal: cutting off playing time. Today, we see the impact.
SENDING A MESSAGE
Ryan Whitney is 29 years old (turns 30 on the 19th) and from what we hear wants to be an Oiler for the good times. I think that's a real positive, but the performance has to be there for the Oilers to commit long term. What I don't know about Whitney's injury is a lot, and I can't parse how much of his early performance is the 'new Whitney' and how much of his early performance has to do with catching up with those who were playing during the lockout.
Suffice to say that the only way to find out is play him, and if the Oilers do plan on dealing Whitney showcasing should begin tonight against Colorado.
Whitney: "It's tough to play when you know that if you make a mistake you're going to be out of the lineup. You really can't play like that. You have to hope they (coaching staff) start showing confidence in you and you start playing in a way that you deserve it."
Two things about that quote: Whitney's an intelligent guy and the words reflect it. There's ownership of performance in there but also a tell in that the healthy scratch had its impact--he is wounded and wants to make good.
The fanbase and the organization can only cheer him on and hope Whitney's performance improves. Whether they choose to trade him (I think it is likely) or re-sign Whitney over the summer, a strong 30 game run this spring is the best result for all involved in this difficult story.
Ryan Smyth's situation is a little different. Smytty is 36 (turns 37 on the 21st) and will be famous in this town for decades courtesy the blood, sweat and tears shed on Northlands/Rexall ice. This isn't about an injury, it is about father time. Smyth--not known for his verbal--is exactly aware of where he is and what he has to do:
- Smyth: "If you're not angry or upset, there's a problem. I’m a competitor so, absolutely, it’s tough to take. It’s in our nature to play hockey and not sit and watch, but that was the coach’s decision. He felt it was best for the team at the time. We’ll move forward. The last two games I played, I took some unnecessary penalties and it put the team in jeopardy. I have to play harder and smarter.”
I don't know a thing about coaching, but would guess that most coaching staffs would like about two dozen Ryan Smyth's in their lineup. A man who loves the game and the logo on the front of the uniform as much as the fans, Smyth "gets it" and should rebound with a strong performance. It looks like he'll be on a line with Nail Yakupov tonight, so maybe they can help each other.
A young player like Yakupov should thank his lucky stars a man like Smyth is available for the mentor role. Even the way he handled the healthy scratch (declining interviews until he was ready) is a lesson for the youngsters. Perhaps Sheldon Souray would still be an Oiler if he'd taken that route (not implying Souray did anything wrong, just that there is a reality about going public when it comes to Oiler laundry).
My own feeling is that the club may want to try Smyth with Gagner and Hemsky. Stopping that 2line from bleeding chances should be job 1 among the forward group, and Yakupov/Hartikainen have not been able to do it so far this season (Hartikainen is back in that slot tonight).
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Aside from ridiculous comments from "all hat and no cattle" types I think the universe knows what these two men are going through and that everyone is cheering for them. Whitney is a big defenseman with an outstanding first pass and that my friends has value. Ryan Smyth is a man who knows more and has gone through more in an Oiler uniform than anyone in the last 20 years, perhaps even longer.
There is no joy in watching either struggle, and we can't wait to cheer their success.
Tonight is another night, another opportunity. Godspeed, Ryan's.