(Photo from the CBC)

When I first heard that Ryan Smyth was retiring, it was the hot topic of the day not just among my friends and other hockey fans alike, but a hot topic for all Edmontonians. I had been expecting it for some time, but even then, I needed some time to digest the news. The weekend was defined by Smyth’s last game and capped off by a classy move by Andrew Ference to let him truly retire as Captain Canada by giving him the captain’s “C.”


I didn’t feel the time was right to write – so I didn’t say anything at the time.


I had watched the all the associated news broadcasts and coverage when he was traded away to the New York Islanders. Again, I was elated when he orchestrated his own trade back to Edmonton. I followed his career in Colorado and Los Angeles. I’ve been up and down the that roller coast ride with Smytty and to me, the Friday news conference last week was just a formality – not a necessity.


I didn’t need Ryan to give me reasons to leave – so I decided not to watch it.


Rather, the reasons for staying – or playing – are long gone. The prescribed feelings I should have felt with regards to Smytty’s retirement were soon replaced by the only two rational feelings with regards to the Edmonton Oilers: anger and disappointment. The Oilers traded Ryan Smyth away in 2007. He played in three NHL cities and found his way home – but even as Smyth’s wandering days come to an end the team he left and leaves behind is still wandering the NHL wilderness in 2014.


I didn’t feel like Ryan owed us an explanation – we as a collective still owe him one. Not just the organization, but the fans.


The Ryan Smyth saga is one that will be forever defined by his achievements on the ice and in the community off the ice. A true fan favourite who kept giving back no matter what the situation. When Arnott, Weight, Guerin – all these players left – Smyth stayed. Smyth and the 2006 Oilers took us to the cup final through pure will and grit.


I didn’t think that 8 years later we’d still be wondering what went wrong, though I have an idea.


I recall a specific criticism from Kevin Lowe about Ryan Smyth not being the “prototypical power forward” – and yet – will we see another Oilers player score 39 goals again any time soon? 36 goals? In our love affair with what we didn’t have we neglected to appreciate the things in front of us. We tried to replace our Smytty with lesser men (no offense to Dustin Penner, or Robert Nilsson) and when that didn’t work we decided (against our will) we’ll just have to wait for Taylor Hall to come of age.


I didn’t see Ryan Smyth win a Stanley Cup – and we still haven’t seen the end of this rebuild.


Therein lies the lesson with regards to the team now. The 2014-15 Edmonton Oilers – whatever their story – now is not the time to turn on these players. Smytty played the heart of his career in Edmonton and the Taylor Halls, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberles, Nail Yakupovs – they likely will play the heart of their careers here too. Before we sell these atheletes short for perceived shortcomings maybe we should celebrate that they are the people who have committed to this team in spite of the struggles. It’s obvious that you have to give up something of value to get something of value – whether it’s through trades, UFA signings, or retaining RFAs. Maybe it’s time to help to stop discussing ways we can tear this team apart through fantastical trades and maybe believe – like Ryan Smyth believed – that there is in fact a lifeboat on board this leaky ship. The Oilers need to embrace their own identity because the answer most likely will come from within and not from without.


I didn’t fully appreciate Smyth, but it’s not too late to get behind our young talent core during the heart of their careers.


The playoffs might not happen next year. Or the year after that. But regardless, the future is now.


Let’s believe, like Ryan Smyth did, that the solution is here in Edmonton.