NATION EXCLUSIVE: RYAN SMYTH HOME AGAIN

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.

  • “when I play here I feel like I know every single fan and they know me.”

    I am not ashamed to say I love this man.

    When he left, the oilers lost their identity. Edmonton expects a certain type of team and hold all of their players accountable to that standard. We accept losing, but you better be trying your ass off. The most interesting part of this fanbase is how we’re able to crucify players all season long but when the puck drops for game 1 of the playoffs, ITS GO TIME! All support, All the time.
    Oilers score – deafening cheer, Opponent scores – “Lets Go Oilers”, commercial break – deafening cheer for entire break, Steak on the ice – cheer……..and Oh Canada, well we all clearly know how that goes!

    Im JACKED for this team but Im more happy for our fans. Been through some just awful times, and as Hordichuk put so elegantly, ITS PAYBACK TIME!!!!

    LET THE PARTY BEGIN

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I was so excited when i heard that Ryan was coming back, the day of the draft I was on the edge of my seat waiting for clarification that Smytty was going to be an Oiler this year, then almost shock and dismay that the team that shall not be named from the south was in the bidding. Im not callin Ryan Smyth Jesus or anything but after the last few years he’s the next best thing lol. Is it just me or is Ryan Smyth already starting to give Ryan Jones a run for his money in terms of who has the better mullet.

    PS- Great read Mr.Brownlee, top shelf.

    • I was seriouly about to cry when the team that shall not be named was “in on the bidding”. My mind told me this was just Lombardi posturing but emotion COMPLETELY took over and I LOST IT. Smytty is all that is right with hockey and Edmonton. It would have absolutely crushed me to see him in any red jersey that didnt have Team Canada on it. I couldnt even focus on RNH at the time, I honestly didnt care for those couple of hours.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    In retrospect, not signing Smytty was a sweet deal for the Oilers. Lots of cap and cash saved, we sucked hard for 4 years straight (including two first-overall lottery finishes).

    If we’d had Smyth, we’d probably be in Calgary’s position right now – 9th-11th every year, just out of the post-season. Taylor Hall would be a Boston Bruin, RNH would be an Av, and we’d have Brett Connolly and Jonas Brodin instead.

    • a lg dubl dubl

      I dont think the Oilers would have been where the flammers were the last 4 years even with Smyth on the team for those years he was gone the team IMO would have still been in the top 10 at the draft. All in all even though the team really sucked the last couple years Im glad we have kids like Hall RNH,Eberle,and PRV in the mix makes for great things to come!!

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Thanks For comminmg by Robin it was nice to see you again, and you were right Ryan is so down to earth never even had to ask for the signings or the pics he just did it great guy.