Ryan Smyth’s return to the Edmonton Oilers basically took place in three parts. At the start, fans in Edmonton were thrilled when the rumours first surfaced, more thrilled when they realized the cost for Smyth was just Colin Fraser and a seventh round pick. Early in 2011-12 Smyth flourished, scoring 12 times in his first 25 games with the team, and the jubilation persisted. Unfortunately, the scoring disappeared in December and never returned, raising questions about his future with the team.
2011-12 Cap Hit: 6.25 million.
Position: Left wing.
How the coach used him: Smyth saw some of the toughest competition on the team, often being used in a hard-checking line alongside Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Jones. He also had a slight weighting towards defensive zone starts as one of the few wingers on the team coach Tom Renney leaned on in those situations. He played 14:26/game at even-strength, 2:28/game on the power play and 2:09/game on the penalty kill.
How he fared: Smyth managed to hang around the middle of the pack in terms of shots against on the Oilers. Given that the Oilers finished in 29th, it perhaps isn’t surprising that this means he was heavily outshot, but he did stem the bleeding more than other roster options did and he was being deployed in a tough role. His even-strength scoring number (1.93 PTS/60) was good overall, though it’s important to know that’s a compromise between a stellar start to the year and an ice-cold finish. His 5-on-4 scoring rate (2.39 PTS/60) was the lowest of any power play regular in Edmonton and a big drop from the year prior.
What McKeen’s says: “[A] fearless, energetic warrior with underrated puck skills .. bit of a graceless, one-speed skater having lost some pace with age .. absorbs cruel punishment around the crease… makes smart, poised plays under pressure and wins board battles .. determined, well-rounded leader whose value goes beyond goals and points .. provides a steadying influence on his teammates .. the mileage is rapidly piling up however…”
My take: Smyth’s primary value is that he’s an all-purpose NHL veteran who can play on any line and in any situation and be relied upon to generally do the right thing. As McKeen’s points out, however, the effects of aging combined with the abuse taken over 18 NHL seasons are starting to add up, and his offensive contribution has dropped off noticeably from earlier in his career.
Smyth isn’t the sort of player who should be counted on in a key offensive role at this stage in his career, and he’d probably benefit from a few less minutes and less difficult assignments too.
With that said, the tank isn’t empty and Smyth can still contribute. He does win battles, he does provide solid two-way play, and a career of fighting battles in front of the net and along the boards have made him more than capable in the corners – both of coming out with the puck and defending himself from physical damage. Smyth doesn’t hesitate to get the elbows up if the situation calls for it, and as a result it doesn’t seem like he ever really gets belted.
Smyth can still provide value on a two-way line and would probably get a huge boost from playing on a secondary scoring line, but his days of playing power-vs.-power should be behind him.
Key statistic: Smyth scored just four power play goals in 2011-12; in six previous post-lockout seasons he’d averaged 11 per season.