Ryan Smyth's first year as a full-time Oiler, 1996, also marked the Oilers' first playoff appearance after a four year drought. Over the next eight years, Smyth became the face of that Oilers group, one that was just never good enough to advance deep into the playoffs. That's not a knock on Smyth obviously, but for six of his first seven years, the Oilers made the postseason, and all six times they faced the Dallas Stars, only beating them once in the 1997 quarterfinals.
It was just one of those odd anomalies; Smyth came to represent an Oilers team that developed one of the more unlikely playoff rivalries in the NHL in the 1990s.
But it would appear Smyth's time as a franchise face has come to an end. The Oilers' forward will be a healthy scratch for Edmonton when they host those same Dallas Stars. It's the first time in over a decade Smyth has missed a game for a reason other than injury.
From The Edmonton Journal:
Krueger is sitting the Edmonton Oilers winger tonight, making room for centre Chris VandeVelde who will take over as the centre on the fourth line between Ben Eager and Lennart Petrell.
“We’re improving as a team and we’re going to be capable of moving players in and out of the lineup,” said Krueger after the morning skate. “It’s about making sure we have a lineup we feel, with the players we have and the energy we need, is the one that gives us the best chance to win.
“There’s no room for feelings in a season like this.”
There was also no opportunity to learn about Smyth's feelings. He declined to speak to the media Tuesday, allowing us to freely speculate on what he thinks about the development without a canned "I just want to help the team win" quote.
Smyth's already seen a reduced role this season, with the full-time addition of two more wingers to the Oilers' lineup in Nail Yakupov and Magnus Paajarvi. It reached the point where Smyth was actually centering the fourth line in the absence of Eric Belanger, playing 10:08 and 11:25 in the Oilers' two weekend games.
Smyth had never played so few minutes in a game since his return to the Oilers last season, save for a game against St. Louis where he was ejected in the second period after running Roman Polak from behind.
Last season, Smyth was used in tough minutes along with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky in a line that provided some shelter for their "Kid" line. Hemsky moved up to play with Sam Gagner and Yakupov this season, leaving Smyth and Horcoff with Lennart Petrell. Since Horcoff's injury, Krueger has experimented different player combinations in the bottom six. Evidently, what he hasn't tried in the Oilers recent run of losing five of six, is sitting Smyth.
The other well-paid Ryan, Ryan Whitney, is also going to sit for Edmonton tonight, which means that three of Edmonton's highest paid players, Smyth, Whitney and backup goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, making a total of $10-million pro-rated this season, will be sitting out. Again from the Edmonton Journal:
Whitney makes $3.8 million this year, or a pro-rated $3.8 million over the 48 lockout games. That’s more than any other defenceman, a shade more than Justin Schultz if he hits all his bonuses. He makes too much to be sitting if you’re the owner, I presume. It’s also a burden if you are farther down the depth chart than management thought, and Whitney has gone from the best Oiler defenceman to one of the top four last year, to a third pairing guy, who has started to be a healthy sitter this season. Again, you have to wonder what the plans are for Whitney?
If Ralph Krueger doesn't make decisions based on emotions or feelings, then he appears to be one of the few members of Oilers' brass that isn't.
Ryan Smyth turns 37 next week, but is still at an age where he can be useful and productive, and I doubt that his stint in the press box will last very long. The collective members of the Oilogosphere (the best collection of bloggers for any given team), have discussed Whitney's injury and positioning issues for a while now. It only seems that recently the rest of the hockey world has caught up. There's a good technical breakdown over at mc79hockey of Whitney's struggles to adapt to his opposite side when he struggles with mobility, which leads the team to having its most well-paid defenceman in the press box eating popcorn.