Winger Ryan Smyth, signed to a US$31.25-million, five-year deal July 1, skated alongside star captain Joe Sakic on Friday in the very first on-ice session at training camp.
“A dream come true – playing with a future Hall of Famer and also Andrew Brunette,” Smyth told The Canadian Press from Denver. “They threw us right together from the get-go.”
Sakic led the Avs with 100 points (36-64) last season while Brunette was second with 83 (27-56). Add Smyth’s 36-goal tally from 2006-07 and you’ve got a fantasy poolster’s dream as the potential top line.
“I played with him a bit on Team Canada so I know him a little bit,” Sakic said Friday. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. Right off the bat they’re trying to set the lines and get that chemistry going to get off to a good start.”
That Sakic and Smyth would start camp on the same line only makes sense. It was the 38-year-old Sakic who helped clinch the deal when Smyth was being wooed by a long list of teams July 1, the captain calling up Smyth and pleading Colorado’s case. It worked.
Now they’re inseparable off the ice, too, driving to and from the rink together every day.
“He’s got a place right near mine so we’ll be doing some car pooling – it’ll be nice,” Sakic said with a laugh.
Said Smyth: “He’s my legit chaperone. He’s showed me around.”
Smyth, 31, won’t need a chaperone on the ice. He knows where the net is and that’s where he’ll make his living again this season. He knows people are expecting big things from him after he was given the big bucks.
“Honestly, I just want to go out and perform,” Smyth said. “I know there’s going to be a lot of pressure. But I just want to enjoy it. And help them start off where the left off last year. I just want to be that extra piece of the puzzle.”
Smyth joins a team that was already on the upswing, young forwards Paul Stastny, Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos giving the Avs a potent offence.
Scott Hannan was the other prominent free-agent addition, bringing much-needed muscle and physicality to a blue-line that has puck-movers John-Michael Liles, Brett Clark and Jordan Leopold.
In short, the Avs believe strongly in their chances this season.
“It’s definitely a feeling we’ve had in the past where our expectations are not just to make the playoffs,” said Sakic. “Our expectations are that we want to win this division, which is a tough division, and really shoot for the Stanley Cup and be one of the top teams competing for it.”
Last season the Avs were red-hot down the stretch, finishing at a 15-2-2 clip, but still missed the playoffs by one point.
“We had a lot of new faces last year,” said Sakic. “It took a little while to get together and figure things out. But once we did, we took off. So we won’t have that adjustment period. And obviously with having Scott Hannan and Smitty and having Jordan Leopold back healthy for a whole year – that’s going to add to our depth.
“We’re excited and we’re very confident.”
After 11 seasons starring in Edmonton for an Oilers team he grew up cheering for, Smyth was dealt at the trading deadline last year to the New York Islanders after a contract extension fell through. His return to the Northwest Division means eight games against the Oilers.
The first meeting between the two teams is Oct. 23 in Edmonton.
“It’s circled on my calendar,” Smyth said.
And you can bet he’ll still have the hockey hair.
“I don’t think he’ll ever change,” said Sakic. “The mullet goes with Smitty.”