February 27th, 2007 was the end of one era and the beginning of another. It’s a day that all Edmonton Oilers fans surely remember. Hell, a lot of us shed some tears, whether in public or in he privacy of our own homes when the news broke. Ten years ago today, Ryan Smyth, the team’s heart and soul, was traded to the New York Islanders.
10 years ago today, the Oilers traded Ryan Smyth to the Islanders for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra, and a first round pick. pic.twitter.com/lWoFgIn3N7
— NHLNumbers (@NHLnumbers) February 27, 2017
General manager Kevin Lowe and Smyth discussed extensions, but couldn’t reach an agreement at any point during the season. As a result, Lowe moved Smyth before the organization could face the reality of losing him in free agency for nothing. In return, the Oilers acquired 2003 first round pick Robert Nilsson, 2005 first round pick Ryan O’Marra, and a 2007 first round pick, which was used on defenceman Alex Plante.
This was a terribly difficult pill for Edmonton to swallow for multiple reasons.
First of all, Smyth was a beloved hero on the team and around the city. Being a local kid born and raised in Banff with a gritty, fearless playing style, Smyth fit in perfectly. The team drafted him sixth overall in 1994, and he quickly endeared himself to the city by racking up a 39-goal season as a 20-year-old in 1996. He was a perennial all-star for a decade in Edmonton, leading the team to consistent playoff appearances in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
But beyond simply having to say goodbye to a player beloved by the city, in making this trade the Oilers shifted back into a period of building for the future just eight months after coming one win shy of winning the 2006 Stanley Cup.
The Oilers were competitive for a few years after Smyth was dealt, sure, but in hindsight, it seems this was the turning point in the organization that led to a decade of futility. Obviously it wasn’t just losing Smyth that made the team bad for so long — there were a wealth of other poor decisions made by the Old Boys Club braintrust — but this is the moment in which things seriously started to go downhill.
You can argue that The Oil Change began in 2010 when the team tanked and drafted Taylor Hall first overall, or hell, you can even argue that it began in the 2006 offseason when Chris Pronger requested a trade. But things were different after Smyth was traded — the team’s gritty, tough, workman image sort of died without Smyth mucking it up in front of the net and hustling up and down the ice with no quit.
The Oilers tanked out the rest of the season after dealing Smyth away. They immediately went on a 12-game losing streak, and ultimately won only two of their final 20 games. And as we all surely know, the final game of the season, a 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames, resulted in Edmonton finishing just behind the Chicago Blackhawks, who won the Draft Lottery and selected Patrick Kane first overall.
With the sixth overall pick, Edmonton ended up with Sam Gagner. He, along with 2005 first round pick Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson from the Smyth trade, led a young guns renaissance that lasted for about two years before the team blew it up and welcomed a second young core known as H.O.P.E.
Smyth ended up coming home in 2011 after requesting a trade to Edmonton from the Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers acquired him in exchange for Colin Fraser and a seventh round pick. Smyth played the final three years of his career in Edmonton, acting as a mentor for the young core of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as they became accustomed to NHL life.
Though Smyth being traded was a heartbreaking moment, everything worked out in the end. He played his final game on April 12, 2014, wearing the C on his chest. It was a beautiful moment. Perfect, really.
But you have to wonder, what would the Oilers have looked like if he wasn’t moved ten years ago? What if Kevin Lowe was able to lock him up to an extension, something similar to the five-year, $31 million deal he signed with the Colorado Avalanche in free agency? Would it have made a difference in the Oilers maintaining a culture of moderate success? Or was the franchise destined to go through the infamous Oil Change? Would OilersNation.com ever have started?