Kevin Lowe took some heat when he didn’t loosen the purse strings for Ryan Smyth at the 2007 NHL trade deadline, a refusal to budge on a long-term contract that led to Smyth’s teary farewell to the Edmonton Oilers.
When Lowe dealt Smyth to the New York Islanders for talented-but-inconsistent Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra and a first-round draft choice, he was criticized by many. How could Lowe trade the face of the franchise?
Move ahead to this off-season, and Lowe’s got some hot spots to deal with, but the Smyth swap isn’t one — not with Colorado eliminated from the playoffs Thursday and the thought of Smyth parading with the Stanley Cup out the window.
Hindsight being what it is, it looks from here like Lowe not only saved the Oilers a big chunk of salary cap space in letting Smyth go, he flat-out won the trade.
Put it this way, after the seasons Smyth and Nilsson just had, would Lowe swap Nilsson for Smyth straight up?
Not a chance.
Smyth, 32, got the money he was looking for when he inked a five-year contract with Colorado for $31.25 million US. With Smyth limited to 55 games because of injuries, the Avalanche got just 14-23-37 from him. Smyth was minus-4 and had three game-winning goals.
Smyth played just eight games in the post-season for the Avalanche, scoring 2-3-5, and he wasn’t even in the line-up in Thursday’s series finale against Detroit.
In contrast, Nilsson, 23, finished strong after a slow start that included being sent to the minors, blossoming on a line with Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano. He finished the season with 10-31-41 in 71 games. He was a plus-eight. All that for $942,000. Nilsson earned himself a three-year deal worth $6 million for his efforts.
While Smyth needs a bounce-back season in 2008-09 to justify the money he’s being paid, the dynamic Nilsson could be a bargain if he turns into a consistent 55-point player. It says here he will.
Lowe’s decision not to go beyond what he deemed fair market value for Smyth looks like a winner — and that’s without factoring in O’Marra and the pick (Alex Plante).
>> TAKING A TUMBLE
In 2004, ESPN ranked the Oilers No. 8 among pro sports franchises, and No. 1 among NHL teams, in a fan satisfaction survey. Team brass referred to the poll often back then. In ESPN’s 2008 poll, the Oilers rank 80th overall and 22nd among NHL teams.
>> IT SAYS HERE … Curtis Glencross was a nice fit on the fourth line after coming from Columbus, but if he wants close to $2 million a season, and I’m told he does, he’s over-pricing himself by $600,000 to $700,000 … Would the Oilers package Rob Schremp and injury-prone Joni Pitkanen if it would land them Florida’s Jay Bouwmeester, who has played all 82 games in three straight seasons?
In a decade covering the Edmonton Oilers, Robin Brownlee has been the news-breaker and insightful voice for hockey fans in Oil Country.