The Edmonton Oilers haven't had much to play for over the past few months. Their playoff hopes ended months ago (right around game three or four). Neither have the fans had much to cheer for, or to be proud of.
But on Saturday, they'll have Ryan Smyth. For one last time. The Oilers final game of the season will double as Smyth's farewell, as the veteran forward retires after nearly two decades in the NHL.
Smyth announced his retirement Friday as a member of the team that drafted him 6th overall, 19 season ago.
During the presser, Smyth expressed his disappointment at failing to hoist a Cup with the Oilers, establishing one last connection with the fans. Lord knows they're just as bothered by it.
"As frustrating as its been for me to not see that happen," he said, "the fans have to be frustrated too. But they are loyal fans and the best fans in the world."
"I'm humbled by your support. It's one of the reasons it's been so special to play here all these years."
Smyth's love of Edmonton is well-known. The Banff-born winger wept openly in the spring of 2007, when he failed to get a contract extension done with his long-time team and was shipped to the New York Islanders just before the trade deadline.
He looked on the verge of tears again Friday, as he said goodbye to Edmonton for a second time. Each time he took a sip from his water bottle, you got the sense it was to hydrate properly for the waterworks, and the Oilers made sure to place a box of kleenex nearby.
But Smyth held it together. "I didn't want to be known as cryin' Ryan," he quipped, in a rare moment where he wasn't thanking teammates, trainers, and doctors by obscure nicknames that demonstrated his closeness with nearly everyone he encountered.
"To my teammates," said Smyth, "best of luck in your careers. Enjoy every game. You don't know when it could be your last. And it goes by fast."