SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers need to sign a defenceman

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

What does Kevin Lowe have to do first?

Get Ryan Smyth signed? Or get defensive help?

You've watched the Edmonton Oilers go from first to worst in a three-week nose-dive in the ridiculously competitive Northwest Division.

You've watched the Oilers put together the NHL's worst record for the last 10 games.

If they have the worst record for the next 10 games, they'll be out of serious playoff contention by the end of the month.

Even if GM Lowe gets a defenceman, will it matter much if Dwayne Roloson doesn't start stopping pucks again soon and if about nine other guys don't find their form fast?

Smyth has been the face of the franchise for his career here. And there's been no better Oiler player so far this season.

You can blame the current skid on just about everybody in Edmonton before Smyth.

There are a lot of core Oilers that Lowe signed long term and paid what the market suggested they were worth. But who is the ultimate core player with his hockey team?

No contest. Ryan Smyth.

All-star season

Smyth has never been in an NHL All-Star game. Try to keep him out of this one.

"He's been unbelievable," said Shawn Horcoff. "He didn't lose stride coming back from injury."

Smyth had points in his first five games since returning to the line-up after missing 10 games with a fractured right thumb.

He's scored 21 goals in 31 games heading into the start of the second half in Los Angeles tonight. With 31 points he's their only point-per-game player.

It's the eighth time Smyth has had a 20-goal season and fourth in a row. Only 13 players in the league have scored more goals.

Smyth has played 10 fewer games and is only five goals behind the leader in the race for the Rocket Richard trophy.

We're talking about a prime-of-his-career hockey player here.

Smyth scored his 250th goal of the season Nov. 30. He broke Wayne Gretzky's Oiler record for scoring a natural hat trick when he did it in 2:01 in October.

The native of Banff who once had his foot run over by Oilers' Glenn Anderson in the arena parking lot when he was stick boy at a Team Canada training camp, now has 255 goals, 271 assists and 526 points in 747 games.

That makes him a certified NHL star.

Smyth kind of grew into that. When he scored his 250th, it kind of snuck up on a lot of Edmonton fans that Smyth is going to end up with some substantial numbers at the end of his career.

He may not make it into the Hall of Fame.

But he's becoming an all-time player who might just have a shot at it if he has longevity.

Sign him and he'll play 1,000 games here.

Face rearranged

Was Edmonton more proud of any Oiler in last year's playoff run than Ryan Smyth when he had his face rearranged, losing three teeth and needing eight stitches to return to the ice?

Whatever the market is going to be for Ryan Smyth, how do you face the fans if you don't give him the opportunity to be the first Oiler star to go wire-to-wire here in his career?

And how can you justify it to the fans if you don't sign No. 94?

He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and if he goes you have nothing left to show in return.

With Ryan Smyth, you can't wait for spring.

You have got to do it right now.

There's going to be a lot of focus, especially with the sprained shoulder injury suffered by Ladislav Smid, on Lowe to acquire a defenceman as soon as possible.

Now that the Oilers have hit the midway mark of the season, the clock is ticking louder and louder on signing Smyth to a new contract.

Keeping his best guy has to be Lowe's biggest priority.

Ryan Smyth should be Job No. 1.


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