Tuesday, July 03, 2007

So Long and Fare Thee Well - End of an Era

For me, the Edmonton Oilers were defined by a couple of men. Ryan Smyth and Jason Smith.
I am a latecomer to the Oilers. I enjoyed watching the dynasty of the 80s and if I had a second team after my Hawks, it was them. Amazing talent on those squads - very often they were steamrolling Larmer, Savard and Doug Wilson on their way to their Cups.
My love for the Hawks ebbed slowly, dying bit by bit as Wirtz and Pulford undercut Mike Keenan, refused to pay Steve Larmer and others, failed to draft, traded away veteran players and so on.
I had followed the Oilers slightly in the late 90s and was a fan and one night in Florida I was watching an Oilers/Hawks game and found myself cheering for Edmonton and realized that was that.
My Oilers' teams were about (in my mind) a bunch of young guys, short on talent but long on heart. Fast skating and hardnosed and a lot of fun to watch - Smyth, Marchant, Mike Grier, Ethan Moreau, Shawn Horcoff, Fernando Pisani, Jason Chimera, Georges Laraque, Steve Staios, Janne Niinamma, Rem Murray, Radek Dvorak. A bunch of kids fighting every year for a playoff spot. Sometimes failing. Sometimes succeeding, which meant playing Dallas.
A team captained by Jason Smith.
A team that last season almost made it to the top of the mountain. Led by the shiny new acquisition of Chris Pronger. But personified by Smyth, Smith, Horcoff, Staios and Pisani.
By the time they made it a lot of "my Oilers" were gone already. Laraque and Dvorak left last summer. Murray went to Europe. And of course the disaster of last season included Ryan Smyth being moved along.
Now its the captain's turn. A good trade, I think. Just as I thought (as a part of the minority) that giving Smytty the money he ended up getting was not a great idea.
But its hard to take. With Smith and Winchester and probably Jussi and maybe Petersen gone, there are only nine players left from that run. Nine!
And only a handful of the old Oilers remain.
I remember commenting on a thread many months ago about how players back in the day stayed with their teams forever. That's the way it was. There was little movement. As an example I used the 1970 Blackhawks, iirc. The majority of the team played their entire career with the franchise. Many more played all but a year. Ten years plus for most.
I miss those days. Call me sentimental.
Good luck to Jason Smith. A guy who played hard and played hurt. A guy who was barely a minus until the final freefall last season, despite playing hurt, with rookies and bums, against the best the opposition could offer, night in and night out. A guy who all the cliches about being a warrior apply to. I remember the beauty goal he scored in the run last spring. And I remember a video I saw where someone was trashtalking and all he kept saying, quiet and menacing, was 'try me. try me.' Buddy didn't and it was a good move on his part.
Its a new team now - its Jarret Stoll's and Ales Hemsky's and hopefully Joni Pitkanen's. And I hope that this team measures up to those who came before and, of course, surpasses them.
Call me naive or an old softie but the business of sports can be hard to take.


Andy Grabia said...

I hear you, Pat. My heart was ripped out last summer, when Le GG was chased away. Then it was stomped on when they traded Smytty. I have nothing left to give Gator, but I'll miss him and I wish him well. I always thought Smyth should have been captain, but Gator was a fucking warrior. You can't ask for more than what he gave us every night.

Okay, now I'm all choked up.

Black Dog said...

Yeah Andy. In the end what Seinfeld said is true - we're cheering for laundry. Guys like Yzerman and Sakic are few and far between anymore. Not like the "good old days", when players were with one team for better or worse.

Its funny being a fan - I always aimagine they're great guys, the guys I cheer for. Some are and some aren't, of course, but you always think they would be the type of guys you play hockey with - just a bunch of regular guys (with tons of money).

I still watch those Youtube videos of the run and man do I get chills. Incredible.

And barely a year later they're nearly all gone already.

Lets hope that Pitkanen and Gilbert and Grebeshkov and Pouliot and Thoresen and all the rest of the kids who we haven't met yet can bring the mojo back. Its going to be a tough couple of years though.

Kyle said...

There was so much that I loved about that 2006 team. I never let myself think about actually winning the whole thing that year, even though we got so close. I just kept thinking, I can't wait to watch these guys for years to come - they've finally proven to be the type of players I thought they were.

Too bad their destiny turned out all wrong.

If I had one dying wish, I think right now it would be to see Ryan Smyth win it all in that Oiler uniform.

RiversQ said...

I can't imagine any of the Smyth trade proponents defending that deal at this point. There's nothing to like about the Oilers' situation right now.

I promised people the Oilers wouldn't get a better player for the same or less money. That's painfully true at this point.

Black Dog said...

Riv - it was a tough deal to defend then and tougher now

And the Oilers are a joke.

My only argument and its pretty well the same as its been since the first - I have a tough time giving that sort of cash to someone over 30 unless its Joe Sakic or Scott Niedermeyer or Chris Pronger. I believe in two types of big money/ big term deals - for those guys and for guys like Hemsky, Horton and so on.

Say Pitkanen is all that and more - I'd rather give him the big cash.

Or is Stoll takes a leap forward.

But even arguing against the trade I never figured they'd get a comp for the same or less. Its down the road I'm thinking about.