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The Prodigal Smyth

Please, please don't let them put me on a line with Cogliano...

After a weekend’s worth of rumours, false confirmations, aborted starts, and excruciating stress for Oilers fans, the deal to bring Ryan Smyth back to Edmonton from Los Angeles was completed today. The price was not exactly steep. A 7th round pick, which the Oilers would have doubtedlessly wasted on the talentless kid of one of the team’s accountants or something like that (they selected the offspring of team scout Frank Musil as well as the son of Oilumni Craig Simpson this year, and missed out on Kevin Lowe’s boy by one pick), and a bag of pucks. Okay, that bag of pucks was actually named Colin Fraser and would have made $825,000 next year. But I remain unconvinced that an actual bag of pucks would be less valuable. Vulcanized rubber ain’t cheap, boy.

Whether Fraser or the more expensive but more trade-killingly injured Gilbert Brule (Bono’s new BFF) would have been the better trade bait, it matters little. And even if Ryan Smyth, who has remained productive outside of the familiar confines of that old arena at Northlands (20+ goals every season save one since that lamented deadline deal in 2007) and surprisingly durable for a guy who plays like he does, doesn’t light the stat sheet on fire in his second stint in the city, the faithful won’t really mind.

This is already a symbolic victory for the Oilers and their long-suffering fanbase, before Smyth plays even a single game or scores even a single goal off his skull or performs even a single mullety hair-flip. The town that has watched star after star (most of them admittedly much better players than the worthy Smytty) depart for greener pastures now sees one of them return, and even want to return. For a team that has been the NHL’s worst for two straight seasons and whose roster still has more holes than a certain road in Blackburn, Lancashire, it’s a sign of hope and faith, a reminder of a brief, miraculous time when things were better, and very nearly as good as they could be. Five years after the 2006 Cup Finals run that galvanized a new generation of Oiler faithful, one of that great run’s key components is back to give it another go.

One must not be too rosy about things, of course. The 2006 Oilers were briefly, blazingly great for many more reasons than the guy wearing #94 and standing in front of the net on the PP, and only a fool would expect a team as horrid as last year’s Oil to turn things completely around due to the addition of a 35-year-old top six forward. They could still use a reliable veteran defenseman or two, an actual fourth (or even third) line, and a starting goalie who isn’t so gruesomely, brutally lamentable. Another #1 overall draft pick (spent on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who’s even more likely to stay in junior for a year with the acquisition of the older Ryan) will help one day, and another year of seasoning will improve the prospects of the young guys. There’s a way to go, but the arrows are pointing in the right direction, and more so now.

Technically, this is only blasphemous if you're in Calgary.

So Smytty will pitch in some points, help the awful powerplay, and perhaps provide some veteran leadership (though that sort of amorphous intangible is not worth giving too much creedence to). But he may well mend some broken bridges and close some open wounds that have been left largely unchecked for the past playoff-less half-decade in Edmonton. Steve Tambellini’s near-scotching of the deal with LA will leave his local detractors even more leery of his stewardship, but something this symbolically potent couldn’t even be derailed by a front-office incompetent for the ages.

Even if the hockey media grants far too much power and influence to metaphorical discourses and fuzzy narratives and purported feelings, there is some level where they matter. Somewhere between the 300 seats in the upper bowl and a sports bar on Whyte Avenue, Ryan Smyth’s return to Edmonton has more power than it will on the ice or in the dressing room or in the salary cap ledger. Way to make next season mean just a little more despite yourself, Tambo. Now try not to screw up the rest of the offseason too blatantly, all right?

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Categories: Edmonton Oilers, Sports

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