Edmonton - August 21, 2013 - Barring some sort of turning back of the clock, Ryan Smyth is headed for his final days as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.
After suffering through what was easily the worst 90 or so game stretch of his career, it appears as though Father Time has finally caught up with the veteran winger.
That being said, with the Oilers lack of depth on their bottom two lines and special teams, Smyth should be given the opportunity to show if he can still contribute on the power play in 2013-14.
At thirty-seven years of age and with 1,198 regular season games under his belt, plus another 93 in the post-season, #94 is nowhere near the player he once was. While most Oiler fans and even Smyth himself, seemed unwilling to accept the reality of the situation. It is painfully obvious to anyone who watches this club play on a regular basis.
To his credit, the former sixth overall pick of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft did whatever the club asked of him during an abbreviated 2013 season. When they ran into injury trouble down the middle, Smytty was asked to play out of position for an extended period of time and did so without so much of a peep. He had his struggles but for a guy who is clearly more effective playing along the boards and in the corners, it should have come as real no surprise.
Heading into the off-season, general manager Craig MacTavish made it very clear he wanted to change the look of his team...including a major face lift for the bottom six forwards. While he did address some of those needs, see Boyd Gordon, others have yet to be dealt with.
As things currently sit, Edmonton's bottom six wingers will come from the group of Mike Brown, Ben Eager, Ales Hemsky, Jesse Joensuu, Ryan Jones and Smyth, with the outside chance of former Toronto Marlies forward Ryan Hamilton earning a spot. Can you say crap shoot?
Obviously the wild card in all this is Hemsky and whether or not he starts the year as a member of the Oilers. If the plan is to use #83 in a top six role for the first couple of weeks of the season, should doctors feel Ryan Nugent-Hopkins needs a little more time to strengthen his surgically repaired shoulder, that is one thing. It would than come down to a decision of using two of Joensuu, Jones and Smyth with Gordon on the third line.
However, if the plan is to have the talented Czech on a third line with the former Phoenix Coyotes centre, only one of the aforementioned three names can a grab a spot inside the top nine. If you read between the lines, it sounds as though the organization plans on giving Joensuu and Jones first crack at earning the spot.
With that being case, it looks as though Smyth could be headed for another year as a potential fourth line guy with the chance of being bumped up the depth chart, be it due to injury or lack of production from others. Could he still contribute something in that sort of role? He would certainly help the likes of an Anton Lander or Will Acton on the fourth line but expecting any sort of offence at even strength, would be nothing more than a pipe dream.
The role the seventeen year vet would likely be best suited for, would be on the Oilers special teams. He has become a regular on the penalty kill since returning to Edmonton and with the club losing key contributors like Eric Belanger and Shawn Horcoff and adding only Gordon as a replacement, that trend will likely continue in 2013-14.
The one thing that could keep that from happening, is head coach Dallas Eakins.
The Oilers new bench boss has hinted at the possibility of occasionally using some of his best players on the penalty kill. Eakins appears to be the sort of coach who expects his top guys to be able to play in all situations and who could really blame him. Take a look around the league and you will find more than a few star players who kill penalties. The smart money would be on the likes of Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall and newly acquired David Perron as potential options on the PK.
Should that be the route the rookie coach chooses to go, in my mind, Smyth would be the obvious choice to see his time cut. With that said, there is no reason for him not to make a return to the spot that he is best suited for....playing on the power play.
Even at his advanced age, the former four-time thirty goal scorer's bread and butter remains his ability to cause havoc in the oppositions zone. He is still among the very best "net presence" guys in the NHL but for whatever reason, was rarely used in that role over the last two seasons. Why you ask? Who knows but apparently both Tom Renney and Ralph Krueger thought he would be a better fit on the penalty kill as opposed to the man advantage.
As previously mentioned, Horcoff's departure will impact the kill but it could actually have an even greater impact on the power play, Perron has always been willing to go to the net when necessary and will most certainly help fill that hole but they will still need someone else who is not only willing but able to do the job correctly.
That guy is Smyth.
Who is kidding who here. Of his 376 career goals, 154 of them have come on the PP.. It really shouldn't be the difficult to figure out. Give him limited minutes at even strength, use him as a third pairing guy on the penalty kill and have him see regular duty on the man advantage. In my opinion, it could even be first line PP time...whatever works.
Not sure about all of you but if the Detroit Red Wings could use Tomas Holmstrom as a major component on their top power play unit until the very end of his career, why on earth can't the Edmonton Oilers do the same with Ryan Smyth? Just like Holmstrom, Ryan has become nothing more the a fourth line guy in the twilight of his career but he still has something to offer.
It is up to the Oilers to use him in a manner that allows him to do just that. If he is going to be kept around, have in a role that suits his skill set and not just fill a void elsewhere. Seems pretty simple. The ball is in your court Mr. Eakins, now do the right thing and make it happen.
2013-2014 Prediction: 10 G, 12 A, 22 Pts