Ryan Smyth and Ryan Jones have a lot in common. They share a first name, an NHL team, both play (primarily) on the wing, and are both bound for unrestricted free agency this summer. Where they differ is in the Oilers’ likely interest in retaining their respective services.
The Coach’s Voice
Over the course of a season, head coaches say a lot about the players under their watch. With media interviews after practices, before games, after games and sometimes just because, a dedicated listener can get a pretty good idea of how an NHL bench boss sees the players he’s putting on the ice (or in the pressbox) every night.
But coaches do more than talk about their players; they also assign ice-time. And while the verbal on a player can be misleading for one reason or other, the ice-time almost never is. Coaches want to win hockey games; they use the guys who can help them do that more than the guys who don’t.
Right now, the ice-time makes it very clear how this head coach views the two Ryans:
Smyth and Jones have been leaned on in similar roles over their time together in Edmonton. Both have seen plenty of time on the penalty kill, some time on the power play (more of it for Smyth than Jones) and largely a checking line role at even-strength.
At even-strength, things aren’t close. Both players are on the fourth line, but Smyth has frequently been bumped up to the top nine; Jones almost never has. Jones has played over eight minutes at evens in a game just once since the end of January; Smyth has done it seven times in his last 10 contests.
On the power play, previous coaches have had time for Jones, but not Dallas Eakins. Eakins has used Jones just once (Mar. 13 against St. Louis) since the start of November. The player got a longer look on the penalty kill, but appears to have been written out of the rotation of late. Smyth is a regular on both units.
So long, Ryan(s?)
Craig MacTavish is under no obligation to sign either Smyth or Jones, and may well decide to part ways with both players this summer. But if he’s going to keep one, it’ll almost certainly be Smyth, because that’s the guy the coaches find useful.