Monday, June 27, 2011
There are a lot of cynics in this corner of the Interweb. Even the most optimistic blue skiers, like myself, have been worn down by years of managerial incompetence. So imagine what guys who are a little more pessimistic in outlook are thinking these days.
And so its a measure of what Ryan Smyth means to the Edmonton Oilers and their fans when one reads the reaction of guys like Tyler Dellow. Giddy might be understating it a bit. We're talking about guys who greet every announcement to do with the Oilers with a scowl or a smirk drinking and dancing and shouting their celebration. I know of at least one fan who promised his wife that they would make a baby if it came to pass. I presume the resulting bundle of joy will be named Ryan.
Being a sports' fan is an odd persona to inhabit. The only thing I like to flog as much as my salami is that book by Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch. Well, I mean not as much, right, but quite a bit anyways. An interesting and entertaining read and his insights on being a fan are pretty well spot on.
Sports is entertainment, its a product, more or less, and yet no other product asks us to spend our money and give over part of our emotional being to it. Companies want us to be branded but I don't go to the pub and cheer when someone orders a decent local pint or a Guinness nor do I stomp their asses when they get a pint of Rickards. (As I tweeted once, having a Rickards is like getting fucked in the ass by Flavour, big Jim Flavour, the guy up the street who just got out of the joint. Holy fuck is it swill.) You won't see me highfiving the guy next to me in the supermarket when someone buys my favourite pudding or hugging my buddy when I'm over at his place and he pulls out some quality Ontario produce.
You get the picture.
And yet with sports, despite the labour disputes and the money and the media revealing that our heroes (Ryan Giggs, seriously?! I wonder how Mickey Mantle would have fared in this environment) are (gasp!) real people with real foibles and real desires, we still give ourselves over to it. (BTW, seriously, imagine being wealthy beyond your wildest dreams at the age of 22. Now, imagine that when you go out beautiful women throw themselves at you and you can get ANYTHING you want. Yeah, right. Best to stay single until you retire I think.)
We still spend the money and the time and cheer for the team regardless. Hell, look at us masochists and the Oilers. We know these guys have feet of clay and we know its ridiculous and yet there we are. And there's nothing wrong with that. Its fun. Its entertainment.
Times have changed, as mentioned, and one of the ways it has changed for worse is when it comes to player movement. A few years back I think it was Matt Fenwick who posted something on this and I took a look at a random club, I believe it may have been the 1973 Chicago Blackhawks, to see if I could prove a point. I can't remember exactly what it was but what I found was that on that club, which was a good team that might have won a Cup or two if Tony Esposito had been wearing glasses when Wild on Jack Lemaire took that slapshot from centre, the vast majority of players who had a decent career either spent the entire time or the vast majority of it in Chicago. I think around half never played for another team and another large group either played a year or two somewhere and then came to Chicago or played their last year or two elsewhere.
As an Oilers' fan this is an especially poignant anecdote for a couple of reasons. First of all prehaps the greatest team ever assembled might have won double digit Stanley Cups except that it was broken up. And secondly no Oiler of any note has spent his entire career as an Oiler. Randy Gregg was close. Pisani was close. Horcoff may do so but there's a long way to go on that.
Ryan Smyth should have been that guy.
The guy requested a trade to the Oilers and apparently he refused to waive his NTC to go to Calgary. (At which point the Flames gave Tanguay a five year contract extension. WTF!) Seriously. Nobody requests a trade to Edmonton.
And in his presser he basically says that he hopes to extend. My guess, if Edmonton doesn't want him, he may hang them up.
Now I am fully aware that its a two way street when it comes to negotiations and Smyth does not escape unscathed from the fiasco of spring 2007 but in the end this was a leap of faith that management should have made. If the Pronger deal removed the backbone of that club then the Smyth deal removed its heart and five years later the franchise has still not recovered. While management's expectation is that Oiler fans will have faith in the club and support the club financially through thick and thin (mostly thin these past twenty years) the fact is that at some point the club needs to pay back in kind. Ideally it would be in wins and championships. Failing that then there should be a brand of hockey that is entertaining. And if not that then you have to give us what we want. We never wanted Smyth to leave and all one needs to do is look at the outpouring of affection this weekend to see that we always hoped he would return.
The relationship between Oiler fans and Smyth reminds me of the relationship between Leaf fans and Wendel Clark. For both clubs the player arrived after the glory years. During their first tenure the team often struggled but there was some success and they were a big part of it. Neither will be in the Hall of Fame but their impact and appeal to their fans far surpassed their on ice talents. For Clark it was his wrist shot and his bodychecks and his fists that made him beloved. Personally I always thought he was somewhat overrated (I'm sure tonight my house will be reduced to ashes) but he was a good player and living here during his rise I can understand the love that Leaf fans have for him. Smyth was the better player, the classic two way winger who could PK and win puck battles and who played on three best on best Canadian teams, winning an Olympic gold medal and a World Cup. And there were the world championships and the world juniors' club as well. He would go to the dirty areas and score goals and he played with enthusiasm and he was a big part of the community.
Anyone who says that Smyth can't help these kids can lick my fucking ass, let me just say that. Just fucking pucker up and start licking.
So the deal got done and while of course there was drama, because there is always fucking drama with the Oilers, there is absolutely nothing to dislike about this deal. His salary is lower than his cap hit and they need that hit to get to the salary floor anyhow. He would have led the Oilers in scoring last year. He played in the top six on a playoff club. He can PK. He can fit into the top nine and the only guy who may lose icetime? Ryan Jones. If you think Ryan Jones is part of the longterm solution for this club (and I like Jones btw) well then, I don't know what to say. And considering the injury issues the Oilers have had over the years I think we know Jones will get his at bats anyhow, if that worries you. For some reason.
Mrs. Jones. Because if you're worried about Ryan Jones losing icetime to Ryan Smyth or think that he's a quarter of the player then you must be Jones' mom. Or wife.
And Tambellini did a good job with this. Really. Sure he had them over a barrel but how many times have the Oilers been bent over? He got it done and he got it done for nothing plus he dumped Fraser. Christ he almost dumped Brule. Tambellini makes me mental but he needs to get credit when its due. He made a great deal. He brought in a good hockey player for less than nothing and for that he deserves credit. Now we'll see if he can do anything else.
What remains to be seen this week is whether or not the Oilers bring in more vets from the Smyth tree, that is guys who can help the team win games. Not guys from the Fraser and Strudwick tree. Guys from the Smyth tree. A centre. A dman. A goalie.
Is it time to do this? Some would say no, go for another lottery pick, and if they do nothing that is a good bet, maybe last overall one more time. Others would say how many more top picks do we need and isn't it time to help these kids out.
What's the right tact? Well I'm tired of losing personally and I'd like to see this team begin to play meaningful games and maybe make it back to the playoffs sometime soon. I think that when Taylor Hall says a vet or two would help then maybe you might take notice and yes his job is to play not to manage but he is the future and I think you want to pay attention. Kid wants to win.
Smyth is going to help that happen.
But its not my call of course and I'm not saying its the right way. I'd like to see it happen but another year of sucking ass might be best longterm. The next week will tell us anyhow,
This may be a short run for Smyth but its Dennis King and Tyler Dellow who have said that they'd love to see three or four years down the road and the Cup being hoisted and the captain of this club, whether it be Horcoff or Whitney or Hall, lift it up and roar to the approval of the screaming throng and then pass it over to a sweaty stringy haired gap toothed sobbing Oiler from Banff.
Wouldn't that be something? Wouldn't it be the best thing?
Welcome home Smytty. You never should have left but now that you're back, welcome back.
Posted by Black Dog at 5:00 PM