As new Islander Ryan Smyth took the ice tonight, I didn't feel the urge to join the ovation at Nassau Coliseum. I didn't feel that bad for Smyth, either, who cried his way out of Edmonton yesterday. Lost in the equation were the Edmonton fans. These were the fans who watched their eighth-seed team get all the way to the Finals last season only to lose Dwayne Roloson to injury in Game One, rally from a 3-1 series deficit, and fall short in Game Seven. Follow that up by losing both Micheal Peca and Chris Pronger (and a few more for good measure) in the offseason, and then topped by a shocking deadline deal that sent Oiler-lifer Smyth east. ESPN's Damien Cox writes about Edmonton's plight:
"They believed somehow it was the inalienable right of every one of the 30 franchises to identify one or more key players and then be able to retain the services of those players. In Edmonton, they really believed that. So they supported the owners' lockout of the NHL Players' Association and even gave NHL commissioner Gary Bettman an ovation when he came to town. ...
So all the promises of the "new economic order" captivated the imagination of Edmonton fans, maybe more than fans anywhere else. It would be an even playing field again. The big, dirty cities like New York and Philadelphia and Toronto wouldn't be able to steal all the good Oilers players away, and the self-proclaimed "City of Champions" would be great again."
As a Sabres fan, I can vouch that I felt the cap would bring this too. And so far, it's been great for Buffalo, except that it might prevent them from keeping both Chris Drury and Daniel Briere around after this season.
But Smyth's situation reminds me more of a former Sabres' contract fight -- Michael Peca. Well, pretty much every sob-story-negotiation does. But the facts are similar in this case. Agent Don Meehan represent the player. (I swear he drives evil in to them...) The team and the player are within $100,000s of each other. Both sides are stuck in concrete, not willing to budge. The city is head-over-heels in love with the guy, as he is the heart of the team. And in the end, the fans end up losing. Big time.
I was moved by Smyth's statement as he departed Edmonton. The tears, the emotions... they seemed genuine. But what I don't get -- in both Peca and Smyth's case -- is why it came to this. Why couldn't either of them take a slight hometown discount? Why did negotiations escalate to the point where both sides were completely irrational and unreasonable? Chalk it up to good old human nature. With both sides so entangled in their positions, they completely forgot about the problem and therefore couldn't possibly find a resolution.
In professional sports, it's cold, hard economics that fans are forced to accept. But there's always the hope that the next heart-and-soul player is coming. Although the Peca debacle hurt for a long time, Tim Connolly turned out to be more than just a pretty face and a washed-up juniors star. And Daniel Briere was picked up for a song. It happens. And, if Smyth keeps his words, the Stanley Cup will come back to Edmonton, anyway:
"I want to thank them [the Islanders] for this. I'm going to go there and do my best to make the playoffs and win that cup so I can bring it down here to Edmonton because that's where my heart is."
All I ask is the same thing I asked six years ago -- if this is where your heart is, why leave?