a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Monday, 20 June 2011

06/20/11 42.0 The Pros and Cons of A Ryan Smyth Return

Look at that hair. You'd be hard pressed to find finer hockey hair anywhere in the NHL. By now you've no doubt heard that Ryan Smyth has requested a trade back to Edmonton. Other than all the innuendo surrounding the way the news came out (was it leaked by the Kings in order to put fan pressure on Tambellini to make a deal?), there are very important questions to be answered. Sentimentality aside, is this move good for the Edmonton Oilers?

The Pros:

- Let's start with the obvious, shall we? It's Ryan Smyth. He's a fan favorite and he bled Copper and Blue for over a decade. People want to see Smyth come back, and it would be a major boost for fans of a team that has toiled at the bottom of the league in both standings and prestige for a long time.

- Smyth has the ability to move up and down the lineup if need be. He can play behind both Hall and Paajarvi on the left wing, but if either of those players falters he can work on the first or second lines in a pinch. It would create some flexibility at the position but it would also make for some healthy competition at left wing. Furthermore, it means that Ryan Jones would be pushed down to the fourth line most nights, and Jones would be a very good start to a re-vamped bottom three. Jones can also move up and down the depth chart, so no one's ice time would be safe at left wing.

- Net presence is something that the Oilers have lacked on the powerplay. Other players have been tried in front of the net, but few in the league are as effective at the task as Ryan Smyth. The Oilers' powerplay would almost certainly improve with the likes of Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle in their second seasons and with Smyth back in his office creating havoc.

- A free agent wants to come to Edmonton. Nevermind the fact that Smyth has obvious ties to Edmonton and that serves as a big reason for him wanting to return. A player that is over 30 is choosing to come to the Oilers instead of going to an obvious (and warm) contender. With the beating that the team's reputation has taken from the likes of Pronger, Souray and Heatley, Smyth's trade request could help to rebuild the esteem with which the Oilers are held in the eyes of the entire league.

- Intangibles. Oilers management had more or less replaced the scoring punch that Smyth brought to the table since he left, but what they never recovered from was losing his heart and soul. Dustin Penner could have scored 40 goals per season and still be a downgrade at the position because he never brought all the drive it takes to win (which incidently is why Penner doesn't score 40 per season). Smyth could help to instill the hard working identity that the Oilers had for the better part of two decades and that started to erode when he was traded. All of the young guns on this Oilers team could use an example to follow like Ryan Smyth, because they won't have an excuse for not working hard when they see a 35 year old do it every game. If even a fraction of Smyth's work ethic rubs off on the kids long term, it will help them all enormously.

The Cons:

- The money. Smyth has a $6.25 million cap hit for next season, which is actually a good thing for the Oilers since the salary cap is going up (which means the cap floor is going up). According to CapGeek, the Oilers currently have $37 million in contracts for next season with no major raises in the off season, and they still have to reach the $48 million cap floor. The downside to a deal getting done is that the Kings only have close to $48 million committed to player contracts next year, including Smyth. Drew Doughty and Wayne Simmonds will both need raises for next year, but it's not like the Kings are strapped for cash. If they so desired, LA could still go after a big ticket free agent like Brad Richards and fit him under the cap, provided that they don't mind being pressed up against it a little. So the Kings don't have to trade Smyth. What will the Oilers have to give up in order to get him? If the conversation starts with a first or second round pick, the trade will probably die on the vine. The positives Smyth brings to the team aren't necessarily worth a draft pick or prospect for a team that should be stockpiling both and unloading 35 year old wingers with albatross contracts.

Why give up an asset now when Smyth will be unrestricted next year?

- Which brings us to the asking price. The news has leaked, which means that there will be pressure on Tambellini to get something done. The Kings don't need Smyth's contract off the books, and they certainly don't want to lose his 23 goals and 47 points of offence. All of that is working against the Oilers. Chances are that the Kings will value Smyth more than the Oilers can afford to pay for him, and if they acquire the Mullet Man "just because" and give up assets, it will not work out well for Edmonton. Nothing more than draft picks later than the third round and mid-level prospects should be moved to get Smyth, and LA is unlikely to make a deal like that.

- The age. Speaking of being 35, Ryan Smyth is 35! Where did the time go? $4.5 million in actual dollars is a lot to give up for a player that age, who probably can't be expected to contribute all that much with younger future stars ahead of him on the Oilers. If this were a free agent signing, it would be looked at as a massive over-payment and probably a bonehead move for a player well past his prime. See: Khabibulin, Nikolai.

And so?

If the price is right the Oilers have to make the move; if only for the sake of the fans who have been so loyal to such an awful on-ice product. It would give them all something to cheer for and rally around. It could also help the kids along. But if Dean Lombardi over in Hollywoodland wants to recoup draft picks lost in the Penner trade, it will be a mistake for the Oilers to make the deal. Ryan Smyth is the stuff of legends up here, but management has to go into this negotiation thinking like any other team in the league would, or they will get burned.

Probably the best thing to do is just to ride this season out and offer Smyth a reasonable contract in the off-season so that he can mentor the young Oilers and retire as a member of the team that drafted him. That would be the best outcome and it wouldn't cost the Oilers a thing.

Nice to know that he still wants to come back, though.

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