With bottom-five finishes in four of their last five seasons now, there’s not a whole lot the Edmonton Oilers do right these days.
But saying a proper goodbye to Ryan Smyth was one thing done right.
The Oilers paid tribute to Ryan Smyth Saturday in his final game before retirement. Not only did they name him captain for the night, they also let his five-year-old son Alex stand on the blueline beside him for the national anthem. It was a sentimental affair full of tears from a very emotional Smyth. And for one game at least, it kept fans from throwing jerseys on the ice.
With their glory days fading into distant memory while the failed seasons pile up, it’s good to see the Oilers with something to honour from their recent past.
The Oilers and CBC did it all first class with the heart-and-soul winger’s last game, and even captured him saying farewell to his teammates in the morning.
The 38-year-old Smyth is Edmonton’s last, best link to their magical run to the 2006 Stanley Cup final as the underdog eighth seed, and more than any other player, he represents what made that run possible. Smyth was never the most talented player, but his hard work and willingness to pay the price in front of the net made him the perfect poster boy for that Cinderella team in ’06.
After that run, Ryan Smyth and the Edmonton Oilers never had it quite so good again. The Oilers traded Smyth at the following trade deadline when they realized they weren’t going to be able to re-sign him, and after helping the New York Islanders to the playoffs, Smyth signed a five-year, $31.25-million contract with the Colorado Avalanche. But injuries plagued him in Colorado and followed him when he was traded to Los Angeles in 2009.
Finally, in the summer of 2011, a much-diminished Smyth wanted to come home. He pressed Kings GM Dean Lombardi for a trade back to Edmonton, and Lombardi granted his wish.
But the Alberta boy returned home to a much different Oilers team, one packed with youth, inexperience and unrealized potential.
And after three more seasons with the Oil, it’s clear Edmonton needs more than an old hero to return them to glory. Not even the nostalgia of repatriating ‘Captain Canada’ could propel the Oilers back to the playoffs.
So as Ryan Smyth calls it a career – taking his 2002 Olympic gold medal and many world championship successes with him – hats off to Edmonton for saying goodbye the right way: with a heartfelt tribute game, and a win to boot.