A Brighter Future, Not a Sign of the Apocalypse

By Jason Menard

Can we all take our foot off the gas and slow down the ol’ hyperbole machine? Tuesday’s trade deadline deal that saw Ryan Smyth depart the Edmonton Oilers was, plain and simple, a sound business decision.

Of course, rabid Oilers fans and apoplectic pundits are preferring to spin this as a sign of the apocalypse, or at best a condemnation of a flawed CBA that’s failing to deliver on its promises. After all, wasn’t the lockout and the salary cap designed to ensure that teams like Edmonton can remain competitive and keep their marquee players.

Yes, to an extent. It’s designed to put a framework in place that prevents certain teams from overspending – essentially hurting the other clubs through their own largesse. But the trade of Ryan Smyth for a couple of former first-round picks and an upcoming first-round selection wasn’t a fire sale. It was a sound business decision to get some value out of a commodity that was probably going to leave at the end of the season.

So tell me Oilers fans. Do you want to get some value for Smyth, or would you rather see him suit up for a few more games and leave your team with nothing in return.

Sure, Smyth could have re-signed with the Oilers, but several published accounts were suggesting that he was looking for a deal in the $5.5 million per season range. Those are pretty lofty numbers for a 31-year-old who isn’t exactly a superstar. And then when you factor in that Smyth, allegedly, was looking for a five-year deal, then the trade is a no brainer.

While you may be able to justify Smyth’s heart-and-soul contribution for the next couple of years at that inflated price – and you may be able to do it, I can’t – no one in their right mind would suggest that a 36-year-old Smyth would be worth that type of cap charge. So if the Oilers aren’t able to commit to that amount now, why would they want to lock up that amount of money in a player whose returns are almost certain to diminish.

Yes, there’s more to this than just the on-ice performance. Smyth has been the face of the organization for years. But he’s also been an important regular contributor to Team Canada’s World Championship squad. And you know how you get to be on that team so often? By losing. A lot.

Those clubs are made up of players from teams who either didn’t make the playoffs or got bounced out early. The Oilers, save for last year’s outstanding run, haven’t exactly torn up the league with Smyth on the roster. This year, again, they’re looking to be on the outside of the playoff race. So why not get some assets in return for him before he walks.

Fiscal responsibility is supposed to rule the day in the new NHL. And while every team in the league would love to have the grit, effort, and scoring touch that Smyth brings, how many of them are ready to pony up that kind of cash and time commitment? I suppose we’ll find out after the season when he tests free agency.

That’s where the market will be defined. Of course, now working for a maverick like Charles Wang — who signed his goaltender Rick DiPietro to an outrageously long contract despite the fact he’s never proven to be an elite netminder – may work in Smyth’s favour. If anyone’s ready to overpay for talent, it could be Wang. But, if saner minds prevail, Smyth’s value will fall more around the $3.5-4 million per year mark in a three-year deal. If that’s the case, who’s to say the Oilers wouldn’t find themselves back in the bidding?

All we know is that the Oilers balked at the $5 million-plus price tag – and rightfully so. Sure, the club appears to have taken some hits with the loss of Chris Pronger earlier this season and now Ryan Smyth. But don’t go blaming the league or the CBA. This is merely a case of a club thinking with its head and not its heart.

Now, more than ever, the league is based on allocating revenue and resources to those who are performing in the here and now. If your salary structure is out of whack, then you have to get whacked – and that’s what GM Kevin Lowe did.

After all, those same fans who are wringing their hands in grief today would probably be wringing their hands in frustration at paying through the nose for a 35-year-old forward who’s a shell of his former self, yet still has a couple more years at $5.5 million per.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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