Man about the house

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Everybody who knows rink rat Ryan Smyth assumed he'd be climbing the walls by now.

Without training camp, morning skates to attend, games to prepare for and fresh battle scars to ice, the Edmonton Oilers forward should be stir-crazy -- at least desperate enough to sign a deal in Switzerland for a reunion with Michel Riesen or with the sideshow that is the Original Stars Hockey League.

Especially on a day like today, when the Oilers would have opened their 2004-05 NHL schedule against Detroit. As usual, Smyth would've been at Rexall Place early, shooting the breeze with the boys in the dressing room, fussing over his sticks.

AFTERNOON TWIRL AT THE RINK

Instead, he will take an afternoon twirl at a local rink with Jarome Iginla, Jason Smith and Georges Laraque, then head for home and bounce 15-month-old daughter Isabella on his knee.

Maybe he'll make a date with wife Stacey and contemplate the joyous news there's another addition to the Smyth family on the way over a bite of lunch. Failing that, there's a host of projects around the house waiting for Smyth, who is just now discovering his untapped ability as Mr. Fix-it.

He's got a life -- without hockey.

"A bunch of us are skating in town," said Smyth, who normally spends as much time at the rink or on the road as at home when the season begins. "Other than that, I'm just changing diapers and driving my wife nuts."

While Ted Saskin of the NHLPA and Gary Bettman's right-hand man, Bill Daly, posture over the mind-boggling inability of the NHL's 30 teams and the players union to divide a $2-billion pie, and fans twitch through the first week of withdrawal, Smyth is sitting back and contemplating his next move.

With the baby on the way, that move won't necessarily involve hockey. That's saying a mouthful when it comes to the 28-year-old Smyth, who, since he was a toddler in Banff, has always had a game to play when October rolled around.

'IT'S NOT TOO BAD'

"It's not too bad," he said. "I think it's going to kick in a little bit more when the snow falls, but I just had my season end with being fortunate enough to play on our World Cup team.

"Everybody is going through the same situation. You know how much I like being on the ice. That's why I'm getting out and skating now, although it's obviously not the same.'

A month removed from returning from the World Cup, Smyth is getting his hockey fix by skating at the Knights of Columbus Arena and keeping tabs on the Edmonton Road Runners.

He's got an offer to play in Europe to consider, and he might jet to Arizona, where Shane Doan, Tyson Nash and Sean Burke are renting ice. Then again, he might just stay home.

"With Stacey being pregnant, that puts some things on hold for now," Smyth said. "Going overseas, I'd have to really think about it as far as the time frame, how playoffs would go and so forth."

When the NHL shut down 10 years ago, Smyth was in his rookie season with the Oilers and had the option of returning to Moose Jaw of the WHL.

Smyth played 50 games with the Warriors that season and he's happily suited up for every game he could find since then -- in the AHL, NHL, at the 2002 Olympics, World Championships, the World Cup and road hockey down the block.

"There's things around the house to do that normally don't get done when you're playing every second night," Smyth said. "I'm spending way more time with Stacey and our little one.

"I built a gate for the stairs for Isabella. I fixed the fence in the backyard. It's just the little odds and ends I don't normally get to around the house."

Smyth, who will lose $3.55 million in salary if Bettman and Bob Goodenow can't strike a deal and the season is cancelled, actually understands how lucky he is to be earning such a handsome living for playing a game he loves. A game that's made him wealthy.

At the same time, he's a card-carrying member of the NHLPA and is toeing the party line.

"I think both sides have to find ways to negotiate," Smyth said. "Negotiation is two sides compromising in some way and coming closer together. I have to say we've given up a lot.

"We've thrown a lot of things at them and they've come back with just a hard (salary) cap so far. The whole thing needs to be adjusted somehow.

"It's a great game, not only for us but for the fans. We all know that. We all want to get back."

Until then, he's got a life.


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