Among the 2nd generation of Edmonton Oilers, only Ryan Smyth’s incredible footprint can rival the true giants of Oiler lore. Smyth bleeds copper, orange and blue just like Oilers Nation. The bond between player and fanbase is exceptional.
BEFORE THE DRAFT
Ryan Smyth was a highly skilled junior player who built a solid pre-draft resume with the Moose Jaw Warriors. His brief bio on draft day offered some idea about what he would become:
- Ryan Smyth: combines quickness and accelaration with agility and balance. A 50-goal scorer with Moose Jaw of the WHL.
Smyth’s association with the Edmonton Oilers seemed preordained. When he was just a kid, Smyth worked at the Banff Springs Hotel, and in 1987 Team Canada stayed there while training for the upcoming Canada Cup. A car in the parking lot driven by the Edmonton Oilers Glenn Anderson hit him. Smyth was hospitalized but would be alright. The two would play together briefly as Oilers in 1995-96, one generation passing the torch to the next.
Smyth was selected 6th overall in the 1994 draft by the Edmonton Oilers. Glen Sather told his scouts they didn’t need to hit a home run, but needed to find a hockey player. The scouts decided to do both.
It took about 2 years after the draft in 1994 summer for Smyth to establish himself as an NHL player. After playing the 1994-95 season in Moose Jaw and helping Canada capture gold at the 1995 World Junior Championships, Smyth made his NHL debut playing in three games with the Oilers. The following year he played sparingly in 48 games and scored just 2 goals.
In 1996-97, Ryan Smyth exploded offensively for 39 goals. His arrival as a quality NHL player coincided with a march up the standings for an Oilers team that had been docile for some time. Smyth got off to an exceptional start, and in late October scored his 6th and 7th goals of the season to tie Mike Gartner for the lead league.
- Smyth: "I got a lot of garbage goals in junior, but this has been something else. I’ve got a few garbage goals and a few alright goals."
Smyth found a home in the early years riding portside with the supremely talented Doug Weight, and for a time the duo made magic with big power forward Bill Guerin to form one of the best lines in Oilers’ history.
Smyth’s great skills included an exceptional ability to take and make a pass, strength along the boards, a rugged style and a sixth sense around the net. He was invaluable to the Oilers, and became well known as Captain Canada for his willingness to skate miles representing his country at the World Championships and the Olympics.
Here is a typical Ryan Smyth goal:
After the Stanley Cup finals in 2006, there were plenty of Oilers who needed to be signed. Fernando Pisani, Dwayne Roloson and a few others had expiring contracts, while Smyth’s had one year to go. Smyth waited patiently for a time, but then went public with his frustrations in 2006 fall.
After that, it became a battle of wills and the negotiations between GM Kevin Lowe and Smyth’s representation did not go well. Smyth’s expiring contract was $3.5M and he was looking for something in the area of $5.5M from the Oilers in a multi-year deal (he would eventually sign for a $6.25M cap hit).
When they finally traded him, there was a sense of shock in Oilers Nation and around the hockey world. The face of the Oilers, the emotional leader of the team and for much of his 12-year career in Edmonton their best player, was gone in a heartbeat.
- Kevin Lowe:"I always thought we would get a deal done. And really, until recently when, in our minds, we really stepped up, thought that maybe it’s not so obvious, maybe it’s not so easy."
- Kevin Lowe: "We’re not a better team with Ryan gone, no question. But in the very near future, we’ll be a better team."
- Agent Don Meehan: "I’m surprised actually, given what Ryan is to the community and what he has been to the franchise. But I understand that, with all due respect, they have the ability to make these decisions and that’s what management has to do in these circumstances."
In the long history of a franchise, there are actually few moments that become so famous they transcend time and place and elevate or fracture a team and its fans. The Ryan Smyth trade, in its own way, is as unforgettable as a Stanley victory or that glorious 2006 run.
The feelings ran deep, and still do to this day. Ryan Smyth may have wept at the airport, but in many ways it strengthened his hold on the fanbase, and made management appear small and petty. There is a portion of Oilers Nation that has not forgiven the Ryan Smyth trade these years later. It may never happen.
- Smyth’s goal at 27:40 of this video was a major highlight
- Member of the 2006 Stanley Cup finalist Edmonton Oilers
- Olympic Gold Medal (2002)
- A six-time member of Canada’s World Championship team (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005)
- Gold medalist at the Word Championships (2003, 2004)
- Played a key role in Canada’s victory at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
- Represented Canada in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin
- Smyth has represented his homeland so often that he has been referred to as "Captain Canada".
- Smyth is the all-time leader in GP by a Canadian at the World Championships.
Ryan Smyth was a high draft pick who arrived with skill and fury, caught the imagination of the Oiler fans and never let go. The image of Smyth flying down the wing and making a crisp pass on the fly are myriad, as are his "garbage" goals–which all counted–along with his sincere "hockey cliche" interviews are treasures for Oiler fans. Through it all, Ryan Smyth has shown himself to be the genuine article–a gifted hockey player with a love for the game and a strong attachment to the city that holds him dear.
I would rank him as the best left wing in Oilers history, and easily the team’s biggest impact player 1995-2010.
These days, Ryan Smyth patrols the 3rd and 4th lines, mentoring the youth and passing the torch. The young men who hope to bring glory to Edmonton would do well to learn about heart, soul and dedication from Ryan Smyth.