'Thrilled to be back'
Longtime heart & soul Oiler, Ryan Smyth, returns home to Edmonton
"I never wanted to leave in the first place."
When No. 94 was traded to the New York Islanders back on February 27, 2007, Smyth was overcome with emotion. With fans and media in attendance, he read one last goodbye speech before hopping on a plane, crossing the border to the United States’ east coast to begin a new chapter.
And yet in Smyth’s mind, that was never a question. The Oilers were part of the equation, obviously, but Oil Country–Edmonton–was where he needed to be.
"We discussed for a while that we wanted to come back to Canada for personal reasons," Smyth said. "That's where home is for us. Edmonton is home.
"It's exciting to be back in [Edmonton]. Every time I go there, I get a warm welcome from the fans and friends we have there.
"You see the other side, you experience it and you learn lots," he added. "I've learned a tremendous amount this whole time since I've been in New York, Colorado, LA and now back as an Oiler."
Getting to this point, however, was a challenge that both Smyth and General Manager Steve Tambellini are happy to put in the past. Kings GM Dean Lombardi spoke with Tambellini several times over the weekend, eventually completing the deal early Sunday morning. Centre Colin Fraser and a seventh round pick in 2012 are headed the other way.
Complicating matters and, perhaps, helping speed the process of today’s early morning trade, was interest from around the league. Smyth admitted that the Calgary Flames called, but also agreed it would have been a tough decision to approve a deal to Edmonton’s most hated rival.
"There were a couple teams in the mix and they were one of them for sure," he said. "But obviously it would have been really tough emotionally with the Edmonton blood that's in me.
"I honestly have to say, I'm pretty exhausted and tired because of the event that went on leading up to all this; it was a pretty emotional ride, but in the end, I really believe that this is where God wanted us to be, so we're really excited."
Tambellini agrees. Bringing in a quality veteran such as Smyth will help provide a boost of leadership, passion and energy into an already youthful and exceptionally exuberant Oilers locker room.
"You need people that are respectful of these young players," he explained. "You need people that are encouraging as far as their development. You need people that want to share in their success. There's extreme passion there in Ryan Smyth."
Tambellini added: "You need people that understand pressure and how to handle it as an NHL player. It can be overwhelming, at times, for a young player if you continue to leave him out there by himself. We wanted to add to that leadership, that experience, that credibility as a group. If we get a chance to add to the leadership, we will."
And so they did. Smyth, 35, understands that his role as a mentor is expected. In fact, it’s something he’s welcoming with open arms as he looks ahead to the Oilers’ deeply talented, although somewhat inexperienced roster.
"I don't want to change things," Smyth said. "I just want to be who I am as a person. It's all about how you come to the rink and how you execute as a hockey player. It's not what you say; it's how you act. That's what I want to bring."
Smyth’s in-the-room presence will surely be a welcomed addition to the squad. Most valuably, he can still produce at an incredible pace offensively. He concluded the 2010-11 season having recorded 23 goals and 47 points in 82 games with Los Angeles, while providing options for Head Coach Terry Murray in a variety of roles up front.
"I know that I'm older, but I've still got lots left in me," he said. "I feel that I've played my best hockey in the past few years. Being around some young guys is going to push me and make me better. I see huge upside.
"Wherever they want me to play, I'll play."
For at least one more season, Smyth will most certainly get his wish. Beyond that, he's already looking ahead to an extension. Without a doubt, he wants to stay in orange and blue for as long as possible, playing for the loyal fans he dreamed he would once return to.
"I've got this last year, and hopefully the organization can see that I'd like to extend my deal. We’ll go from there. It's an honour to play in the NHL, but to be welcomed back to this organization is overwhelming.
"I’m thrilled to be back."