Waiting on Ryan Smyth

With all the attention on free agent defenseman Justin Schultz, it’s easy to forget that the Edmonton Oilers have their own unrestricted free agent to deal with: Ryan Smyth.

The Oilers don’t appear to have forgotten, however. From ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Friday morning:

Pending UFA winger Ryan Smyth remains without a new contract as Sunday approaches. A source told ESPN.com that the Edmonton Oilers were slated to talk again with Smyth’s camp Friday.

From what we’ve been hearing in the press, it doesn’t sound like negotiations have gone particularly well. That’s not a huge surprise, particularly since Smyth essentially had two seasons – the 2011half, where he was a top-line caliber winger (37GP – 14G – 16A – 30PTS) and the 2012 half, where he was something else (45GP – 5G – 11A – 16PTS). Given his age, it makes sense for the Oilers to argue the latter is more likely to indicate future performance than the former; on the other hand, I’d be surprised if Smyth’s camp wasn’t arguing based on the whole-season numbers.

Let’s start by looking at shooting percentage. Player’s typically get hot and cold over a season, but in the end revert to their career shooting percentage level. Smyth, as a crease-crasher and guy who takes shots from in close, has a slightly better than average shooting percentage on his career – 11.6%. He’s had some good years (2006-07, where he fired 17.1% en route to his last, massive contract) and some bad years (2007-08, 8.3%) but he’s general around that mark.

Split Season

In the 2011 half of 2011-12, Smyth fired 14 goals on 98 shots. That’s a 14.2% shooting rate, significantly better than his career average. In the 2012 half of 2011-12, he scored five times on 96 shots – a 5.2% shooting rate, or a little less than half of his career average. If he scores 11 goals in 2012 (that’s the total his career SH% puts him at on 96 shots) we’d be talking a lot less about his decline and fall.

The truth is that Smyth got some help from the percentages in posting his early season numbers – his on-ice even-strength shooting percentage was a remarkable 11.2%. How remarkable is that? The Oilers as a whole were near the league average, at 8.1%. That means that with Smyth on the ice, his line was 40% more likely to score a goal on any given shot than a team-average line.

Steady as She Goes

In short: what we’re looking at in both the first and second half of the season is percentage-based fluctuation. Smyth’s shot rates dipped minutely later into the year (even as his shot-based metrics, like Corsi, improved with the team’s late season spike) but not much – he really wasn’t playing all that differently than he had been to start the year. The difference is that at the start of the year he looked much better than he was (thanks to percentages) and at the end of the year he looked much worse than he was (thanks again to percentages). If I had to bet, I’d gamble that his full-season numbers are a fairly accurate predictor of his offensive ability next season.

Smyth’s real value comes from two-way play. He played the toughest available competition this year, and started far and away more often in his own end than in the offensive zone. He may not have excelled in that role over the course of the entire season, but he generally held his own and (again over the whole season) found a way to contribute offensively.

This is what separates him from guys like Milan Hejduk and Todd Bertuzzi, both commonly cited in the comments section as comparable players. Smyth out-scored both of them – Hejduk had 37 points, Bertuzzi 38, Smyth 46 – while playing far tougher minutes. Hejduk saw middling opponents and got a ton of time in the offensive zone; Bertuzzi was less sheltered but still got more favourable minutes than Smyth (to say nothing of the fact that Pavel Datsyuk is a slightly better NHL’er than Shawn Horcoff).

In some ways it would be surprising if there wasn’t a significant gap. The Oilers are probably looking at Smyth as an old guy who isn’t a long-term fit, one whose offensive game declined as the year went on, and a guy bound for third-line duty. Smyth’s camp undoubtedly sees a two-way player who can still contribute offensively and would have significant interest on the free agent market (and there’s no question that Smyth would get interest from other teams).


Interesting to me has been fan reaction. When Smyth left last time, fans were angry – and Smyth earned something like an extra $750,000 per year on the free agent market, which over five years is a healthy chunk of money, to some degree validating his refusal of the Oilers’ offer (the Oilers could have matched that easily had they not overpaid Ethan Moreau, Steve Staios, and Fernando Pisani, but I digress).

This time around, the general consensus seems to be ‘he can take what the Oilers are offering or else he can hope the door doesn’t hit him on the way out.’ It strikes me as odd. The only reason the Oilers had Smyth last year – and got him for virtually nothing, asset-wise – is because he moved heaven and Earth to get back to Edmonton. Now, if a deal isn’t settled, he’s going to get most of the blame.

I’m not saying the Oilers need to bow to every whim from Smyth’s agents. It just seems to me that the penalty-kill looked way better with him on it than with him off it, and that the Oilers don’t really have another option at left wing to play defensive minutes. Sure, they could push Hall into that role – at an offensive cost, or gamble Paajarvi learns fast, or hope Lennart Petrell is a much better hockey player this year than he was last year, but none of those things are likely to happen. For all their vaunted depth on wing, the Oilers are painfully short of two-way presence. Particularly big two-way presence that plays with a little chippiness (Smyth, like few others on the team, never hesitated last year to get his elbows up if someone was coming in for the big hit). It also seems to me that given the team’s unhealthy tendency to toss money at people like Andy Sutton, and worse, Cam Barker, that paying market value for Smyth on a one-year deal isn’t a terrible idea.

It may all work out in the end, but somehow I’m skeptical. The last time around, Smyth left for more money and the Oilers suffered. I’m betting the same thing happens once again.

This week by Jonathan Willis

  • yawto

    Even with a boatload of Fist overall picks you need the veterans to teach them how to win. If they do not Keep Smyth it better be because a Jagr or Doan is the thought to replace.

  • yawto

    Even with a boatload of Fist overall picks you need the veterans to teach them how to win. If they do not Keep Smyth it better be because a Jagr or Doan is the thought to replace.

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    Or hopefully, cool heads prevail and Smyth sees the chance to be part of something that ( if it stays together) becomes special.

    The fab five have arrived!!!!!!!!!!

  • RYAN; The oil needs your veteran leadership more than ever, You are a fan favorite and a team leader. The new generation needs your input into the re-building of this great organization.It is you that brings the seek and destroy mentality into the oil. I hope you go with your heart and stay on with the team you love, OILERNATION!

  • Scuba Steve

    “Smyth’s shot rates dipped minutely later into the year (even as his shot-based metrics, like Corsi, improved with the team’s late season spike) but not much – he really wasn’t playing all that differently than he had been to start the year.”

    Totally disagree with this statement. Smyth was a different player in the second half. I think the shot totals flattered him more than the percentages hurt him.

    The shots in the second half were of much lower quality, muffins from the boards, muffins from just over the blue line, and lots and lots of wrap around tries.

    It kind of makes me think that the numbers have blinded you a little to what was actually happening on the ice.

  • Dipstick

    Until PRV or Harti step up and beat him out of the second line LW position, he is in the top six. God forbid Taylor Hall is not ready to go for the start of the season and he may have to be on the top line. Finding a replacement may not be that easy. A one year contract at 3.5 with lots of bonuses doesn’t cause cap problems and should allow the youngsters to develop.

        • Marshall Law

          Either Hemsky or Yakupov will be moved to the left side to fill out the top six. Positions, especially in the case of wingers switching sides, are not set in stone. I believe Hemsky played the left side at the world championships. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see him do the same for the Oilers next year.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Great Article JW!!

    It’s funny how the wind is always blowing the fans around here. It’s good to see Smyth get backed up and without any appeals to emotion.

    “paying market value for Smyth on a one-year deal isn’t a terrible idea.”

    Agreed, completely.

    But… I’m wondering if the separation between the two camps has more to do with term this time around than money. Presumably Smyth wants to retire in Edm. or get as close to it as possible here.

    And, I’m guessing the Oilers are thinking they don’t want to be saddled with a contract of a late 30 year old in 2-3 years.

  • I think my attitude towards Smyth is due to how his season went. I just think of how bad he was in the last third of the year and not how great he was at the start. I won’t mind if he gets a 1 year contract with a bonus for goals and points but I’m not interested if he wants 2+ years. A multi-year deal only works if it is for less than 2 million a season and I can’t see him going for that. Nobody knows what will happen with the cap and I don’t think it makes any sense to have Smyth signed when Hall and Ebs are coming off their ELCs.

  • No way to the 3.5 million!
    We may not have cap issues now but if we continue to overpay we will have and then we will not be able to resign everyone.

    I would not consider a 2 yr deal. We have Hall, Paajarvi, Jones, and Hartikainan on the left side. We do not need Smyth. I would love to have him as an insurance policy if he would sign 1 yr at 2.5 million or less.

    Pajjarvi is a finnesse player who will not do well unless he is playing with other skill players. I think he needs to be on the 1st or 2nd line unless we keep Hemmer in which case he could play on the 3rd line with him.

    • Marshall Law

      Just wondering if you’re also one of those guys who loved the Hemsky deal? Yeah, we can’t give a guy 3.5 million who plays hard every nght and is somewhat responsible in his own end, but we can give Hemmer 5 million. And who had more points last year? Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw Hemsky come to a teammates defense. I saw Smyth do it a few times this year. Smyth brings a lot of things to this team and a lot of them don’t show up on paper either. We need some character guys on this team and Smyth is one of them. I have no problem with a one year deal at 3.5. After that he either has to take a discount or others will be able to fill his shoes.

  • Paajarvi-Nuge-Eberle, Hall-Gagner-Yakupov, Jones-Horcoff-Hemsky, Hartikainan-Belanger-FA signing

    Whitney-FA Signing

    FA Signing

    Looks much improved! Still have 3 holes in my mind but they are not the gaping holes we have had the last few years. If we are able to sign a big, defensively responsible, right wing unless Petrell has really improved in the off season. Need a big mean stay at home defenceman to play opposite Whitney, and ideally an upgrade on Khabi.

    • Marshall Law

      Switch Hemsky and Magnus and you might be on to something. Anyone who thinks that Hemsky will be getting third line minutes is delusional. They’ll certainly move either Hemsky or Yakupov to the left wing before they play either of them on the third line.

      Let’s not forget that before last season, Hemsky was the best player on this team. Expect some bounce back from him. Not a third line player…in any universe.

    • justDOit

      You’re putting Paajarvi on the first line with Nuge and Eberle? C’mon let the guy prove himself first before we can expect him to be a regular let alone on the top line. I agree that the Oilers have improved but by how much will be up to them next season.

      You’re also forgetting Ben Eager on the fourth line.

  • Cervantes

    The Oilers are looking for a one-year contract, and I bet Smytty would like two or three. The difference is that the Oilers can add bonuses to a one year, but not to a 2+, so there’s the difference between a nice 2.5M + bonus and a 4M/2y contract.
    I hope they get it settled, Ryan is exactly the player we need, as long as Krueger gives him fewer minutes this year so he’s fresher as the season wears.
    Although, at the end of the day, we have plenty of cap room, and a few years till ELCs start expiring. If the Oilers give him 3.5×2, I won’t be heartbroken. It’s a little overpay, but really, for The Mullet, it’s worth it. If he’s looking north of 4 or more than 2 years… well, there’s loyalty to a player, and then there’s just crazy. Who does he think he is, Khabibulin?

  • Marshall Law

    “The only reason the Oilers had Smyth last year – and got him for virtually nothing, asset-wise – is because he moved heaven and Earth to get back to Edmonton. Now, if a deal isn’t settled, he’s going to get most of the blame”

    I take this to suggest Smyth was doing the Oilers a favour, doing the heavy lifting to get himself back to Edmonton. That may be true but for who’s benefit? ie. – how badly did the Oilers want him back, in reality? (PR nightmare to not go along with it).

    “The last time around, Smyth left for more money and the Oilers suffered. I’m betting the same thing happens once again”

    The disposition of the team (roster assets, AHL team and prospects, owner etc) at the end of 2007 are vastly different than they are today I would argue. Not sure what suffer means but if they do, can’t see it being like the dark days after he was traded in 2007

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    If Big Bert and Hejduk represent the bottom end, then Selanne has to represent the top end. Smyth paled in comparison to Selanne last season but I believe he was paid the same or more.

    On his new deal, if we assume the floor is 2M and the ceiling is lower than Selanne’s 4M (I think), then they should be able to find a happy medium like 2M or 2.5M plus bonuses to get to 3M.

    The only way this deal should get complicated is if Smyth insists on a multi-year deal.

  • GVBlackhawk

    Hate (HATE) to say this, but I see Jay Feaster throwing almost $10 mill at smytty over two years first thing tomorrow. I think its an overpay if its more than $3 mill 1 year or $5 over 2. He made his bed and had to lay in it last time and its the same thing this time around. I felt bad last time but I won’t this time.

    • GVBlackhawk

      You think the Flames are going to pay Smyth 5 million per season, when they only pay Glencross 2.5 million per season? And you think Smyth would be ahead of Glencross on the depth chart?

      Don’t think so.

  • GVBlackhawk

    Wasn’t Smyth exactly what the Oilers needed last year? I don’t know about most but I think the Nuge had a little to do with last years 1 spot ascent in the standings. Nobody is willing to trade any of the youth, so we have to improve our veterans. Every team needs great veterans, and sadly the Oilers just don’t have any. If Ryan Smyth couldn’t help the LA Kings, how is he supposed to help the Oilers?

  • Scuba Steve

    How time distorts reality; the reality that Smyth was horrible for half of the year. Screw the numbers just watch the game and you will see the snails pace he was playing at. It looked to me like the game has passed him by. It could have been a mental thing being that the team was out of the playoffs, but what ever it was, he stunk. If he won’t sign for big bert type money than he should take his talents elsewhere.

  • Scuba Steve

    As I recall, in the fall of 2006 Smyth huffed in the press that there would be…wait for this one…’ NO HOMETOWN DSCOUNT!’ That was our beloved mullet-maven a couple of months before he forced the trade to the NYI. Pretty heartwarmong stuff. Smyth signs his huge contract with the ‘Lanche’ and then cries himself to sleep on his ‘huuuuge pilla’.

    At the end of last season he starts this huge drama with LA and they oblige him. Now for ‘family reasons’ he’s back in Edmonton. Now he appears dissatisfied with term, dollars and role in this current negotiation.

    I for one am sick of the drama, the crocodile teams and angst this big baby causes everywhere he goes. One yr., 2.5 ml and 3rd line minutes or bon voyage!

  • Smyth a diminishing asset who is unlikely to get better at this stage . It’s not like Oilers can’t fill his void if he chooses to leave again . Let him go to free agency and find a value we may or may not decide to match . If he will not take a discount to be a part of emerging Oilers , then he’ll be the one who loses out . He’s simply not that vital anymore . He should take the Oiler offer and live out his dream before it passes away with him playing elsewhere in a minor role . Feaster wants to pay him big bucks , then let him go to Calgary as i don’t forsee the Flames being much of a threat adding Smyth .

    CRY ME A RIVER , BUT IF HE WANTS TO PLAY HARDBALL AT THIS STAGE OF HIS CAREER – BON VOYAGE . Over paying Smyth the last time , and he still left . Why should we do it now when he is a diminishing asset ? We were right to let him go last time and will even be moreso this time . It’s not like the Oilers live or die with or without Smyth anymore .