Ten years ago today, the rebuild began with the Ryan Smyth trade


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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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?

  • Gravis82

    I was about to buy a new pair of skis, I was stoked. Looked up, saw the news on the TV in the store. Walked out immediately. Soon after…the mother of recessions. Coincidence? I think not.

  • The Ryan Smyth Death march began on the day they hung Messier’s jersey in the rafters of Rexall.

    To this day I am still astounded by the move and subsequently watching MacT stammer over the speach that Lowe was supposed to deliver remains one of the most bizarre moments in Oilers history.

  • MrBung

    I can’t believe it has been so long that there has been any talk of playoffs in Edmonton. 2006 so long ago…

    Please Oilers, don’t blow it this season. You are so close.

    • Hemmercules

      Balance has been returned to the force…….

      Cant believe its been 10 years. Feels like it went by so fast but what a lot of sadness over hockey during that time. Lots of ups and downs, mostly downs. Anger at times (Mact coming back, Nikitin deal, Shultz Norris comments……and so on). Conner gave me renewed life when it came to this franchise. Im praying every night they can take it to the next step in April.

  • Oil_Dude

    That trade should have set us up for a decade , three first round picks that year….and we came away with :

    Sam Gagner
    Riley Nash
    Alex Plante

    That is what really started the 10 years of nothing.

  • toprightcorner

    This is when the rebuild SHOULD have started, but it took another 14 years for the Oilers to actually commit to a rebuild. Saying otherwise is giving past management too much credit for having the right idea.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    This trade was how Kevin Lowe lost me. Ryan Smyth was the heart and soul of the Oilers and for him to be traded over a bit of change was heartbreaking and cruel. This guy loved being an Oiler when very few hockey players wanted to play here. He never should have worn another team’s jersey. The only good thing Tamb did was bring Smytty back to the fold so he could finish his career playing for the team he loved.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    what boggles my mind is that the Old Boys Club could never figure out how to properly build this team….they brought in so many mediocre guys, some like Ference, Nikitin, Fayne and Pouliot were vastly over payed. i’m glad it’s over but it was a painful 7 to 10 years of not winning anything and it’s really too bad that MacT and K-Blow and Buchberger are still involved with this franchise.

  • Arminius

    Aww well if it isn’t Cryin Ryan blubbering and bawling into his soup.

    Pronger, Comrie, Coffey, Glencross, Souray, Horcoff, Gilbert, Dubnyk, Petry, Schultz, Versteeg, Hall, Yakupov, Perron etc hell even Shattenkirk and Heatley..are all having a good laugh reading this this morning and saying “Look kids, look at this guy actually cried on national TV because he had to LEAVE Deadmonton ! “( children laugh, hilarity ensues and wife smiles knowingly and says “best thing that ever happened to us was the day we left that dump babe”)

    The best was when he said he was going to win the cup and bring it back to Edmonton..”where it belongs” ??

    Yeah about that Cryan…they still waiting, hope you’re still playing on out there somewhere, slipping on your tears

  • Robert (AKA Hockey Fan)

    All I care about right now is the Oilers making the playoffs, and then ride the train for as long as they go!

    I was onsite working for CompuSmart when the trade was made. My late Aunt was pretty unhappy as were most Oiler fans. If anything the Oilers are fighting for a spot and it all starts tonight vs the Blues and then March to come!

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Ten years and a brief Smyth renaissance with the Oilers still haven’t changed my mind.

    This trade was always the fault of the Smyth camp. More accurately, it was the fault of Smyth’s agent, Don Meehan.

    Why? Well, I’ve always maintained that any contract negotiation that ends up sending your client blubbering through an airport represents an epic fail on your part as an NHL player agent.

    We’ve always been led to believe that the Oilers and Smyth were somewhere in the neighbourhood of $150,000 apart – or less – on a contract in the hours and minutes leading up to the NHL trade deadline 10 years ago. In real-world money, that’s a handsome salary for a breadwinner to bring home, but even in the NHL of 2007, it was a pittance.

    But it didn’t get done. And the reason why it didn’t get done is the same reason why all other contract disputes happen – the player rejects the final offer. That’s the lesson of the Ryan Smyth Debacle 10 years ago – that the players are always in control. They always have the final word in a back-and-forth negotiation. Ten years ago, the word, apparently, was don’t budge – not an inch, not a hundred-grand.

    At that point, the Oilers knew he would walk on July 1. Everything after that was a business decision and, quite frankly, it was the correct one. But make no mistake – someone in that Smyth camp, either Meehan or the client himself, overplayed their hand.

  • Mo-Larr

    Meh. Smyth.

    So highly thought of in the room, they made new acquisition Ference the captain rather than Smyth for a one year farewell tour. Remember the “Is Hall ready to be captain” debate?

    Never once demanded Hemsky fix the worst practice habits in the league. Never corralled the off ice activities of the young uns on a losing team. The only preeminent ex Oiler without a job in hockey. And on and on.

    Circumstantial evidence all….but it’s a mountain and eventually a case is made.