Ryan Smyth is about to claim his place among the greatest players ever to wear the silks of the Edmonton Oilers, which is saying something, and you might see it unfold at Rexall Place as early as Wednesday or Friday.
Going into Wednesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Smyth has amassed 575 points as a member of the Oilers. With three more points, he will pass former Oiler captain Doug Weight, who has 577, and move into sixth place in career franchise scoring.
The only players to have put up better numbers than that have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and have their jersey numbers hanging in the rafters at Rexall Place – Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey.
As beloved as Smyth is by the fans he’s been tossing pucks to here and around the NHL for 17 seasons, as respected as he is for the ties that have always bound him to Edmonton, Smyth, statistically speaking, is about to become the greatest-ever Oiler not a member of the Stanley Cup-toting fivesome of Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Anderson and Coffey. Think about that for a minute.
If that’s not rarified air, I don’t know what is.
Smyth, 35, who orchestrated a trade back to Edmonton after two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, has never won a Stanley Cup. He’s never scored 50 goals or even 40 in a season – although he camped his skinny, stubborn backside in front of goaltenders for a career-high 39 goals in 1996-97 and he has pretty much refused to move out of the blue paint since then.
Smyth isn’t the fastest skater. He isn’t the biggest or the strongest player ever to look an opposing defenseman in the eye and so much as say, "Try to move me out of here." They’ve tried.
Smyth’s shot can barely break a pane of glass, and if you added up every one of the 277 goals he’s scored with the Oilers in terms of distance, you’d barely get from one end of the rink to the other and back again.
And it goes without saying that Smyth, who showed up showed up for his first three NHL games during the 1994-95 season and decided he’d stick around until somebody told him to leave – which GM Kevin Lowe did when he traded him to the New York Islanders – never had the teammates to play with the Boys On The Bus did.
Yet here he is, three points from overtaking Weight and bumping up against the best to ever have donned the Oil Drop, the greatest players to ever play anywhere at any time. That tidbit drew a sloppy grin from Smyth when I mentioned it to him at the rink today as he headed out to the ice for practice.
I’m not suggesting for a moment Smyth belongs in the same category, statistically or otherwise, as players like The Great One, who had 1,669 regular season points with the Oilers before being sold to Los Angeles, Kurri (1,043), Messier (1,034), Anderson (906) or Coffey (669). But he’s damn sure hacked and whacked his way to a place just down the block in the same neighbourhood by standing his ground in front of that net.
Smyth isn’t going to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and, as team convention dictates, he won’t see his linen raised to the rafters alongside the only players ahead of him in franchise career scoring (and the jerseys of Al Hamilton and Grant Fuhr).
That said, Smyth, by almost any measure, is the greatest Oiler who hasn’t won a Stanley Cup or been fitted for a HHOF jacket to ever grace the doorway of the home dressing room on Gretzky Drive. Not too bad for a skinny rink rat who grew up in Banff idolizing every one of those names in the rafters.
And unless Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle find a way to stay a good long while in this town, Smyth, with three more points, will likely be as close anybody ever gets to them.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.