Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Two Bags of Pucks and a Roll of the Dice

Alright everybody. Let's take a deep breath.

The way everybody's talking about the Ryan Smyth trade today, you'd think the world had come to an end. Sadder yet, being the night the Oilers raised #11 to the rafters, commentators and jilted fans have been heard lamenting the fact that #94 won't be retired someday, as well.

Come on. Ryan Smyth is good, but he's no Messier. Heck, he's not even an Al Hamilton (that other guy in the rafters at Rexall). I'm not saying Smitty's a bum. Just that he's a symbol.

It's time for some perspective.

Smyth is a gritty character player. He's a 20-goal scorer who's had a couple of good years (thanks largely to a lack of other goal-scorers on the team). He's a second-line winger on most other clubs. He may well have been the "face of the franchise" (the "mullet of the mob"), but he is not the player everyone's making him out to be.

All this in mind, Kevin Lowe's decision not to pay Smyth $22 million over 4 years was a no-brainer. Think about his options:

Option 1: Recognizing he's an unrestricted free agent this summer, trade Smyth now for the best package possible... Regardless of what Glen Healey says, three first round picks was the best deal on the table for Ryan Smyth, especially considering the fact that Bertuzzi, Guerin, Tkachuk, and Forsberg had already found homes. (Not that Smyth is even remotely in that eschelon of players.) It would have been nice to have made a trade earlier, when teams were still hungry. But Oil Country wouldn't have stood for a deal that ended their playoff hopes any earlier in the year. Nor would fans have let Lowe off the hook if he made the deal without negotiating down to the very last minute. And no one could be sure that Detroit, San Jose, Atlanta or Nashville were even interested in Smitty.

Oh, don't kid yourself: Nillson and O'Marra are not going to be first-line players in the NHL. But, combined, they won't be much worse than Smyth's 20 goals / year. Plus, the first-round pick gives the Oilers a total of three (3) first-rounders this June (their own, the Islanders', and the one Ducks sent over for Pronger). Combine all of this youth with the players they already have (Schrempf and Syvret are ready next year), and you have a decent up-and-coming group. Put yourself in a good position to contend next year, and you have a ton of trade bait at deadline time. Long story short, the Oilers would have been hard-pressed to make a playoff run even with Smyth in the line-up. It was time to start thinking about next year.

Option 2: Hold onto Smyth and hopefully sign him in the off-season... Knee-jerk Oiler fans, conjuring up images of "I promised Mess I wouldn't do this" would say, "Pay Smyth as much as he wants -- he's our franchise player!" I'm not as nostalgic, and neither was Lowe. The way he and Donny Meighen were 'negotiating', neither side was going to back down this summer. So, option #2 would have seen the Oilers get nothing at all for Smyth. Two bags of pucks and a roll of the dice are better than a kick in the teeth.

Ahhhh, but there's still a third option that makes everyone happy......

3) Rent Smyth out to the Islanders for a good price, then sign him back in June.... NO, I'M NOT A TEARY-EYED OPTIMIST, HERE. I'm not saying Smyth will ever put on an Oilers jersey again. Nor will I be burning my own chandail if he doesn't. But consider this: Why on earth would you sign Smitty to a $22 million contract in February, when you could sign him to the same contract in June PLUS pick up three decent prospects? (Turn the rally-caps around, delerious Oiler fans -- we were not making another Finals run this year, so Smyth's departure doesn't cost us anything.) No one else in the league -- not even the delusional Garth Snow -- would sign Smitty for more than $5.5 million / year. Lowe knows that. At the very least, he will be a top bidder for Smyth when he becomes a UFA in a few months. If he lands Smitty again, all is well. If he doesn't, we're back to Option #1 -- which is still far better than Option #2.

Lowe says his decision was based on hockey factors, not financial ones. I, for one, believe him. Until the rest of Oil Country comes to its senses, I suggest we join forces and do what comes naturally to all of us: Cheering for whichever team plays the Flames in the first round. (Go Preds, Go!?!)


Anonymous said...

He was the heart and soul of the team. He consistently played with the passion of someone who loves hockey. The game tonight shows how much he's missed.

DeepRedTory said...

Nobody's saying he wasn't a fan favorite. Edmontonians love a guy with guts. But how much are you willing to pay?

I love hockey, too. And like Smitty, I'm not in the top 50 in NHL scoring. Do I deserve to make $5.5 million / year?

BTW: The Oilers were shut-out four other times this season with Smyth in the line-up. What was missing those times?

It was nice to see the old jerseys out, though. Nice touch.