During a December that has seen the King mopping the floor with their opponents, one of the only consistently negative things I have read about the team in the fan-o-inter-blog-o-circle-jerk-o-sphere is in regards to Ryan Smyth. This is not a response to anything in particular, certainly not with the Kings’ masterful performance against the San Jose Sharks tonight. Rather this is something that has nagged at me, an opinion more than the scarce few who have held to it since his acquisition have recently latched on to as Smyth has scored only 3 goals and is a -3 in the last 12 games.
He’s a geezer they say. His best days are behind him they insist. He makes too much money they cry. His cap hit is tying Lombardi’s hand from making a move they lament. Its definitely going to hinder us next year when the final cushions are being placed on his grave they are already digging.
34 is the new 90.
I see what people complain about. He falls down a lot. Frolov never tried the wrap around as much as Ryan. His top speed is equivalent to most player’s leisurely stride. So what.
Ryan is still tenacious. He is still good with the puck in tight spaces. Through the neutral zone Smyth makes slick little maneuvers to break out his linemates as well as anyone on the team. He still draws the attention of the opposition toward him like a magnet. He is still a leader.
I am willing to hang my hat on the assumption that Dean Lombardi thinks Ryan Smyth is worth every penny of the $10 million bucks Phil Anschutz will be paying him and the $6.25MM of cap he eats up. Even with the Doughty, Johnson and Simmonds contract looming, I doubt Smyth is a place Lombardi is looking to trim cap space.
Smyth is a large part of what makes the Kings a deep team. Not to take anything away from our young stars, even more so now with the addition of Marco Sturm. But Ryan is an even larger part of why this group of 20-somethings are able to compose themselves on a nightly basis like the grown men they aren’t yet. There is no question that Smyth’s production is trending downward, something that will at best, steadily decline from here on out if not fall off sharply. However Smyth can still be counted on for the kind of important goals that only the most fearless players are willing to score. He can still be relied upon to give the kind of effort others use as an example for themselves.
If you believe that Ryan Smyth should be traded, or is a detriment to the team, or isn’t worth his contract, I urge you to consider an evaluation of the game off the ice that sees more than a hard and fast progressive correlation between points and cap dollars. On the ice I ask that you do your best not to let the silly mistakes of an aging vet playing a young man’s game consume your vision, mistakes that have rarely cost the Kings in any significant way this season. Key in on the soft touch of Smyth in the corners and ability to get off a quick stick handle and pass with defenders encroaching upon him. Notice how Stoll and Williams gain space from the opposition getting drawn towards a player they know they must respect.
If you can’t or won’t do any of those things, then there is one thing you would serve yourself well to give a try. Get used to Smyth. I’m no soothsayer, but I’ll bet my jelly beans against your cracker jacks that Smyth isn’t going anywhere unless it is as an unrestricted free agent.