October 22, 2007
Smyth is back in town
By DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media
They've had important homecomings in the past.
But this one ranks up there with the biggest.
Ryan Smyth left Edmonton amid controversy, heart-broken and in tears.
He'll return tomorrow night as a member of the Colorado Avalanche undoubtedly to a hero's welcome, his mullet back in Rexall Place for the first time since the 12-year relationship with the Oilers ended at the trade deadline last season.
"It's going to be a little different," said Shawn Horcoff. "I played with him for seven years and was on his line for three years, so we're obviously really good friends.
"It's going to be a battle. He's going to be excited and he's going to want to get a win in here. And ... we're desperate for a win, too. It's going to be a pretty confrontational night."
Smyth, 31, began his career with the Oilers, and for a time, appeared as though he would end it with them.
But when contract negotiations hit an impasse last season, Oilers GM Kevin Lowe traded his best player to the New York Islanders minutes before the deadline. It was either that or risk losing Smyth for nothing on the open market at the end of the year.
"He played hard for a lot of years here and was a big part of this organization, so I think he deserves a lot of respect," said Steve Staios. "It's going to be special for him and his family. He meant a lot to the organization. I think he's going to get a pretty warm welcome back and it's going to be well-deserved."
The trade marked the end of an era in Edmonton, ripped the heart and soul out of the club and essentially ended all hopes of a playoff spot.
Smyth was dealt to the Islanders for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O'Marra, and a first-round draft pick (Alex Plante) this summer.
Smyth became an unrestricted free agent after the season and signed a five-year, $31.2-million deal with the Avalanche.
"For him, it's going to be exciting coming back to a lot of good memories that he had here as a player," said Jarret Stoll.
"He's probably going to be pretty emotional, I think, and he'll be playing hard.
"He'll be tough to play against."
"I think it'll be a real good, well-deserved reception for Ryan," said head coach Craig MacTavish.
"He's meant a lot to the organization and me personally, as well, giving me the support that you need from your best players as a coach and it'll be good to see him come back."
Smyth played 770 regular-season games with the Oilers. His 549 points (265 goals, 284 assists) puts him seventh on the team's all-time list. He added 22 goals and 21 assists in 68 playoff games.
"He's relentless," MacTavish said.
"You go through a practice like we did (yesterday) and try to instil Ryan Smyth-type instincts and habits in some of our players. He's fearless and he's relentless.
"He may not be the best puck-handler or the best skater, but he gets a lot done through his persistence and his perseverance. He goes to the tough areas very willingly."
Keeping Smyth away from the net will be one of the biggest challenges for the Oilers tomorrow night. It's well-documented how dangerous he is around the net.
"It's going to be difficult playing against him, he's one of those guys that gets good body position in front of the net and it's tough to knock him around in there," Staios said.
"And with the new rules it's even more difficult. So you have to try and get into the lanes and block shots and get pucks out of the front of the net early because he has a real knack for knocking those in."\