Monday, October 22, 2007

Oilfield reunion

When Ryan Smyth decided to come back west and sign with the Colorado Avalanche for a very handsome sum, the first thing that any good Edmonton Oiler fan did was to check the schedule and see when the Avs would first be in town.

Reunion night takes place on Tuesday, as Smyth and his new club make the trek to Edmonton, ready to once again play the traditional role of those that shall be hated. However, for Oiler fans with good memories, it may be hard to build up that animosity for a favourite old son.

It’s doubtful that Smyth will feel the complete unfettered hostility that Chris Pronger finds when he returns to Edmonton. Where Pronger wanted out for undefined “personal reasons” a perceived snub of the Alberta capital, Smyth’s departure was for something much easier to understand; it all came down to money.

A familiar path that the Oilers have faced over the years, a small market team seemingly unable to keep up with the wild spending of the larger markets. It is a trend that first reared its head back in the days of Gretzky and his tearful farewell to Edmonton on his way to the sun and surf of California.

Last springs drama played out through to the trading deadline, Smyth the reluctant participant in salary brinkmanship, declaring right up until his flight to Long Island that he didn’t want to leave his home province.

The trade seems to have split Oiler fans into two camps, one side that feels that Smyth should have taken one for the team, accepting less money from the Oilers in order to continue as the team’s heart and soul. Others suggest that the Oilers made a fatal error in not properly rewarding a long serving warrior who played night in and night out, without complaint proud to be wearing the Oiler crest on his chest. Shakespearean dramas have had less material to work with.

While Smyth gave the Islanders a quick shot of enthusiasm for their short and unsuccessful playoff run, the Oilers had tumbled into an end of season free fall that left many long time fans frustrated and fearful for their team.

With the benefit of a summer past, perhaps they’ve put those end is nigh frustrations behind them. Kevin Lowe is designing a new Oiler team, looking to build for the long term, cautiously guarding its payroll while struggling to find its skates on the ice.

It will no doubt be a packed arena on Tuesday night, many there to salute their former hero, a few to spurn him. Regardless of their position, all had best get used to seeing him in a Colorado uniform. His four year contract guarantees that he’ll be back in town on a regular basis.

Each night will bring a reminder of what once was and what could have been if not for a hundred thousand dollars.

There will be an uneasy feeling around the rink on Tuesday, a crowd probably not sure what they should do, whether to cheer or boo.

The safe money suggests they’ll acknowledge his long commitment to the Oilers with applause and genuine goodwill, right up until the moment the puck drops and the two teams renew their legendary hostilities.

And should Smyth score a goal? Well let’s hope that 31.25-million dollars makes for a thick skin and that he doesn’t take the traditional response personally…

His return has done its fair share for the production of Alberta newsprint, here’s a sample of his homecoming reports...

Edmonton Journal- Ryan's return
Edmonton Sun- Smyth is back in town

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