I still can’t get over how some people accused Ryan Smyth of shedding crocodile tears at Edmonton International Airport after he was dealt to the New York Islanders at the 2007 NHL trade deadline after 11th-hour contract negotiations stalled.
There was nothing fake about Smyth the first day he walked into the old Edmonton Oilers dressing room at Rexall Place in 1994 as a baby-faced first-round pick, sixth overall, out of Moose Jaw.
There was nothing phoney about Smyth during the 12 NHL seasons he toiled for the Oilers before being shipped to New York after GM Kevin Lowe decided he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pay Don Meehan’s asking price. And there was damn sure nothing staged about the angst etched on Smyth’s face and the emotion that spilled out that memorable day at the airport.
What you see with Smyth is what you get. Smyth is what he is and now, after being traded to Edmonton by the Los Angeles Kings four years after he reluctantly left town, he is what he was and has always wanted to be — a member of the Oilers.
Home again, hoping to finish his career where it started.
WHERE THE HEART IS
Smyth rolled back into town from his summer home in B.C. this morning and he’ll be at Rexall Place tonight as an honorary captain for the Red and White game to highlight the WJC camp that’s been here this week.
Smyth, 35, his wife Stacey and their three children are settling back into their old stomping grounds in preparation for the season. They’re getting the kids ready for school and unpacking at the house they’ll be renting while a new home is being built.
I met up with Smyth at a local car dealership this morning and we spent a few minutes talking about his return to Edmonton and his thoughts on the upcoming season — after, of course, he was done signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans who got wind he’d be in town.
Suffice to say, after setting the table for the trade to Edmonton by letting Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi know this is where he wanted to be, No. 94 is thrilled to be back where he enjoyed his greatest success and made himself a part of the community.
ABOUT THE FANS
"Obviously, the best-case scenario would be to end up here and sign another deal," Smyth said. "It’s family, it’s coming back home. This is home for us.
"Two of our three kids were born here in Edmonton. It’s a special place. Aside from the family, when I play here I feel like I know every single fan and they know me.
"I appreciate their honesty as far as how they react to the team and how they react toward me. I try to give me best on a consistent basis and they do the same in return.
"They’re very loyal fans. On that front, I just really appreciate that side of playing hockey here."
ABOUT THE CITY
"Living wise, this is a great place to raise a family," said Smyth, who made stops in Long Island, Colorado and Los Angeles after the deadline deal that first sent him packing.
"The kids are starting to get into that school age, so getting embedded is important. Stacey and I have been involved in the community for a great deal of time. We just felt coming back here we could focus on the family side of things and in the community.
"We never wanted to leave in the first place. Being back just brings chills to my spine. It’s an awesome place to live and to play. The rink is packed every night. People care about this team."
ABOUT THE FUTURE
With only Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert remaining from the 2006-07 edition of the Oilers Smyth played on, and with sweeping changes to the front office as well as the coaching and training staffs, this isn’t the team Smyth bid farewell to.
The popular jerseys in the stands now are adorned with the names of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is on the way.
This team is a baby-faced bunch with nowhere to go but up, which was pretty much the situation when he arrived during the strike-shortened 1994-95 season during the brief tenure of George Burnett and then Ron Low on a team that went 17-27-4 in 48 games.
The veterans on that sad-sack outfit were Doug Weight, Jason Arnott, Shayne Corson, Kelly Buchberger and Bryan Marchment. This time, he’s the old guy.
"It’s been a changing of the guard for sure," Smyth said. "It’s more young, energetic and fun. An enthusiastic atmosphere I see."
PASS IT ON
"I want to help grow the kind of situation I came up in," Smyth said. "We had guys like Kelly Buchberger and Dougie Weight and Jason Arnott. Later, Billy Guerin came through. Guys who knew how to be professionals and also cared about their teammates and cared about winning.
"I want to come in and be a part of something special. I think with my experience, I can maybe help on that front, but I can probably learn something from these kids, too. They push the pace. It’s good at this stage in my career to have younger guys pushing you.
"You’ve got to practice hard and you’ve got to play hard. It’s that old mentality that Slats (Glen Sather) instilled in a lot of players. I want to carry that on here."
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.