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Pucks and PR

Because hockey is more than just a game

According to reports, Ryan Smyth is asking the Los Angeles Kings to trade him back to the Edmonton Oilers.

Yes, he’s asking to go to Edmonton! For most of those who follow the NHL, that fact is hard to digest.

Edmonton has become the poster child for difficulty in attracting NHL talent. The stigma has really set in ever since Chris Pronger asked to be moved following the Oilers’ 2006 cup run.

Reports at the time had listed personal and family dissatisfaction with living in Edmonton as a core reason for the trade request. And it isn’t that there is anything particularly wrong with the city and people of Edmonton. It’s a hockey mad city where players are highly respected. They are simply a victim of geography.

When compared to the NHL’s burgeoning markets in the southern USA, Edmonton just can’t compete with certain lifestyle aspects. This is a fact that several smaller, northern markets struggle with. Winnipeg, for example, got their first taste of this when Ilya Bryzgalov said he wouldn’t want to play in the city.

As a former player, captain and star of the Oilers, Smyth’s desire to return doesn’t have as much impact as other situations, but it still helps the Oilers’ image.

Edmonton’s image has been one where players don’t request to go there in trades and will only sign as a free agent if the dollars are big (see Dustin Penner). Having Smyth request a trade to the city, even if it doesn’t happen, ever so slightly improves the team’s image. It isn’t a huge boost by any stretch of the imagination, but it helps.

In fact, it might be better if the trade doesn’t happen. Finding a deal that leaves each team in good positions both on and off the ice will be hard to find. The Oilers are smart to kick the tires and see what the asking price is, but it could be better to thank Smyth for the compliment and focus on the draft.

If Smyth decides to keep playing after this season, he’ll be a free agent, so the Oilers would be better off giving him a one year deal with a small cap hit next summer. They wouldn’t have to give up anything to get him, he’d finish his career where it started, the Oilers would have a mentor for their young core, and they would reap the benefits of a returning star.

The request says a lot about Smyth’s respect for Edmonton. It also shows a lot of class. Smyth is a player nearing the end of his career. He could easily request to be a rental on a contending team.

As much as Edmonton benefits from being his desired trade destination, it’s Smyth who benefits most by showing his dedication to and love for the city, team and fans of Edmonton.

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