I’ve always had a soft spot in my hard, old heart for Ryan Smyth, so I smiled today when the Edmonton Oilers announced he was the team’s nominee for the 2014 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
While the Masterton certainly isn’t one of the major pieces of silverware handed out at the end of each NHL season, it’s an award that fits the mulleted Banff boy with the Oil Drop tattooed on his backside like a glove.
The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, is presented annually to the NHL player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”
Describes No. 94 perfectly.
Perseverence? Like overcoming a badly broken ankle to will himself into the 2002 Olympics with Team Canada when nobody thought the screws and plates would mend him soon enough to give him any chance to play in Salt Lake? Mercy, he worked his backside off to make it to Utah.
Like spitting out teeth and blood in Edmonton’s remarkable run to the 2006 Stanley Cup final after taking a wayward puck in the yap at Rexall Place and barely missing a shift? In that post-season, Smyth produced seven goals and nine assists in 24 games.
Dedication? Like playing 1,265 regular season games and 93 more in playoffs because he’s been willing to work harder than the next guy and take a beating to play the game he has to play to be successful? How’d he score 386 regular season goals and 28 more in playoffs with that shot? “I ain’t moving. You can’t make me.” That’s how. And those 126 power-play goals, tying him with Glenn Anderson for the franchise lead?
Sportsmanship? Smyth has never asked for an inch or given one out on the ice. The punishment he’s taken over the years is mind-boggling. Never, in all the years I covered the team on a daily basis, from the time he walked in as a rookie in 1994-95 until he left in 2007, did I hear Smyth speak with anything but the utmost respect for his opponents – many of whom went out of their way to beat him senseless. Not just on the record, but off.
The lost teeth and the spilled blood and the broken bones have always just been part of the game. No big deal. The price you pay. Give the other guy hell with everything you’ve got, expect the same back and let the cards fall where they will. Old school.
Smyth, now 38, faces the Phoenix Coyotes with 10-13-23 in 67 games this season. He’s clearly lost a step he couldn’t afford to lose and most of the talk about him now is that he’s at the end of the line and that it’s time for him to hang up his blades and call it a career. I suggested the very same thing a year ago, April 17. Fat chance.
The only way that’ll happen is if the Oilers tear the jersey off his back and refuse to give him another contract at the end of this season. Of course Smyth believes he’s got more left to give, that he can play another year. You’d expect anything else? He’s the same rink rat he was 20 years ago.
Smyth doesn’t need the game – he has made more than $55 million playing in the NHL, invested wisely and has all the money he, his children and his grandchildren to come can ever spend. He loves the game.
Whether Smyth should stay or go is a debate for another day. You can certainly make a case the time has come. Of course, Smyth cares as much what you and I think about that as he did about Derian Hatcher mugging him in front of the net all those years. Bupkis.
“Perseverence, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” Whether Smyth wins the 2014 Masterton or not, today’s nomination made me pause and smile. He is the epitome of all those qualities.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.