Brave-faced vets

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

Completely stunned by the trade of Ryan Smyth, key veterans in the Edmonton Oilers' locker-room are trying to use the deal as a rallying point.

"We are not in a great position right now, but we have done some pretty special things since I have been here," said defenceman Steve Staios in the aftermath of Smyth being traded to the New York Islanders yesterday. "And we are not going to lose the faith of trying to get in the playoffs."

TOP SCORER LOST

With Smyth leaving for two young prospects and a draft pick, the Oilers instantly lose their top goal scorer (31 in 53 games), top point producer and key inspirational leader.

The club also loses its key power-play specialist.

Smyth leaves with 14 power play goals. Injured forward Jarret Stoll is next with just six tallies.

"Any time you lose a player who brought what Ryan did to the table on a regular basis there are holes that need to be filled," said captain Jason Smith.

"Every guy is going to have to step up and play well.

"Right now is a great opportunity to push forward and prove yourself individually and just elevate your game to another level."

But no matter the positive spin the players are trying to deliver, they can't hide their reaction to the deal.

"I got wind of it on the TV (yesterday) afternoon and obviously it was shocking," commented Smith.

"I think being a teammate of Ryan for numerous years and what a great competitor he is, he is somebody you obviously don't want to see leave your team."

After yesterday's morning skate - when Smyth addressed the media as a player who didn't seem to be going anywhere - Staios went home, approaching last night's game as a normal event. That changed after his pre-game snooze.

"I woke up from my nap today and found out - (I was) pretty shocked," he added.

"I kind of kidded with Smytty a little bit about it - like teammates do, but never expected it to happen.

"It is tough to lose a teammate that you have had for that long and what he has meant to our team."

It appears little was known in the Oilers' dressing room about Smyth's contract negotiations with club management before the trade suddenly occurred.

"From what we understand as players it was respectable negotiations all along. There wasn't a lot of mudslinging," said Smith.

In a rare display in the current NHL - where players are off limits on game days after the morning skate - Smith and Staios appeared at a press conference just two hours before opening faceoff last night to talk about Smyth's surprise departure to Long Island.

"To have two of us out here two hours before a game I think it shows the importance of what kind of guy he was to our team," remarked Staios.

HOCKEY IS A BUSINESS

"We are involved in a business. These things happen and we are going to have to continue on without Smytty.

"We feel like we have the players in the locker-room that could put a stretch together (and) we can get ourselves in the playoffs."

And once this season is over, the veterans will try to help management recruit new players to fill the void.

"I don't think it is any secret to where the best place in the league to play is," added Staios.


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