Friday, April 06, 2007

It's official. Smytty traded to Islanders

I saw it on my PS2.
And some guy (14-year old kid maybe?) scored on my Oilers twice with Ryan Smyth in Islanders gear and beat me 8-2 online.
It's real.

Until a day or so ago, I could still see Ryan Smyth in Oiler colours (I guess he still is - considering the colour scheme in Long Island) while playing online PS2 EA Sports Hockey.
I could pretend the trade was not made and see Smytty score a goal or two with his Oilers. The online version of the game has a set roster that can't be changed or updated so you're stuck with EA Sports' best guess as to rosters and lines as of the beginning of the year and the game launch.

Well, at long last, EA Sports has updated NHL rosters for nerds such as myself who play online hockey late at night. My excuse: kids are in bed, wife's at work. I can't be anywhere else. Might as well get my ass kicked online a few times.

Up until the rosters were updated, Ryan and MAB were still Oilers.
But Dick Tarnstrom was still around. So was Rem Murray.

A few interesting notes with the updated Oiler roster:
- Petr Sykora is on the fourth line. He is now wearing #71. At the beginning of the year he was wearing Jari Kurri's retired #17. It didn't look or feel right.
- Denis Grebeshkov is on the first d-pairing with Jason Smith. He is also really fast and has a great shot.
- Raffi Torres is on the default first scoring line with Horcoff and Hemsky.
- Robert Nilsson is on the team. He's fast, has a decent shot and gets his ass knocked to the ice really easily.
- Laddy Smid and Norway's own Patrick Thoresen aren't on the team. I heard that EA Sports can't add players until they are officially NHLPA members by playing an NHL game. Neither player had yet seen NHL ice when NHL 07 was unveiled.
- Brad Winchester is on the roster when you download it, but didn't make the cut for the default online starting roster. Even in the virtual world, the pixellated Craig MacT still scratches the fake Winchester.
- Tjarnqvist is wearing #33 which has been worn in the past by Jiri Dopita and Marty McSorley (twice).
- Grebeshkov is wearing Kevin Lowe's #4. No other Oiler player has ever worn that number.
-I still suck but I can't stop playing. I'd probably win more if I used Nashville or Colorado like everyone else (they're that good in the virtual EA world) but, hey, I'm an Oilers fan.

"I Don't Wanna Play in Edmonton"

This whole "(Lauren) Pronger wanted out of Edmonton, no one wants to play in Edmonton" debate is getting pretty tiresome.
This city, more than most, has the biggest insecurity complex I've seen. We've got one major sports franchise that had some remarkable and amazing years and anyone who grew up in this city knows that most people around the world over 30 connects the city of Edmonton with the dynasty Oilers.
It gives us a common hook to hang our civic pride on.
People in Edmonton that I grew up with had this weird love/hate thing with our city.
Most of them would rather live in Detroit or Spokane (probably because early cable TV brought those cities closer to home than they should be) or wanted to be Torontonians or Vancouverites.
But we could always brag about our hockey team when we wanted to justify to the big-shot urbanites from the rest of the country why we didn't get off our asses and leave.
The city has far more loyalty and pride now luckily. People in this city seem to have a newfound pride in the city they were born in or grew up in. Probably because most of the "lucky" hometowners who shot off to Hogtown/Montreal/Vancouver/even Calgary for better jobs, more glitz, etc. found the life too expensive and came back.
We don't really have a hockey team to brag about anymore. At least not this year. We got a taste of the 80s arrogance last year and we all wanted it back for good.

Anyway, why do Edmontonians get so bent out of shape when a Pronger/Peca/Spacek/other asks to leave/signs a contract with another team?
So an NHL player doesn't share our love for this city and wants out or doesn't want in? Big deal.
Not every player will. Most of the other NHL cities seem like a lot more fun, don't they (Nashville, Columbus, Minneapolis aside)?

Then this little ESPN survey comes out and only one player picks Edmonton as the team he'd rather get traded to and other perceived slags are included in the same survey.
Big deal.

An NHL player will play for the team that offers him the most money or the best contract (ie. usually the most money). They really don't care what city they are in.

Ryan Smyth did not want a "hometown discount." Fair enough. Unfortunately for Edmonton and unlike every NHL team in the United States save Detroit, Minnesota and Boston (and the New York teams to a smaller extent) this city actually has players in the NHL that call Edmonton a hometown. A smaller contract in Nashville is chosen because it was the best contract available or for reasons other than the total at the bottom (length of contract, bonuses) but I don't think any contract offered to a player in Nashville will ever be laughed off or considered a hometown-discounted contract. They don't make hockey players in Nashville. Or Florida. Or California. Or Colorado. Or Dallas. Or Atlanta. You get the picture.

The bad news?
Today's post-CBA NHL is going to be more like the NFL insofar as player movement will be found in free agent contract signings over trades. The younger target ages for full free agency and the subtleties of working under caps or budget caps will see NHL GMs using free agency pickups more and more often and trades will happen just that much less.
A traded player has to play for you (barring the odd player who sits out or demands an immediate trade). A signed player has to choose to play for you.
That means that wooing players will be of a new importance. GMs, team presidents, team alumni and current players will all be partners in making your team more attractive than the team down the road. Offering more money will help too.

Edmonton has crappy travel needs, tough opponents, unpleasant winters, high expectations from fans and an old-boy's-club mentality in the office that could be tough to crack through.
Edmonton also has passionate fans who care, community support and one of hockey's truly great legacies.

Here's my list of the type of player who would likely not play in Edmonton, assuming he had a choice and an equivalent offer from another team was on the table; in other words, money will not be the issue. I'm using nothing more than blanket statements, assumptions and stereotypes.

-Young guys who grew up in small town Canada. As far as Edmonton goes, been there - done that. I want to see LA. Hell, even Florida would be great.

-Guys who want to win. Today's average NHL player hitting some level of free agency is usually around 28 or 29 years old. That means he was born in the late 70s or early 80s. The dynasty Oiler teams were a memory before this crop of players hit puberty. When I grew up, I heard that the Leafs were really good once but I never really saw it. We know how great our Oilers were; kids today have to read about it. This new generation grew up seeing Dallas, Colorado, Detroit, New Jersey and a few other teams succeed over and over again. Hockey players are competitive. They want to be part of a winning team as much as fans want to cheer for one.

-Guys who want to play, go home and not be noticed, cheered or jeered. This city ranks with Montreal and Toronto as one of the league's pressure cookers for NHL players. Even the casual fan knows what you look like and if you won last Tuesday. In most of the American rinks, the football players, baseball players, actors, newscasters, basketball players, college athletes, senators, weathermen and local downtown crazies are more well-known than the NHL players.
Not everyone wants to be recognized in the pisser. Most hockey players tend to be shy and humble and approach the job with some work ethic. They don't like the spotlight, don't interview very well and love the game more than the glitz. Ironically enough, those that do love the attention want it on a bigger stage than Edmonton would provide anyway. I imagine Jeremy Roenick would much rather be recognized the A-list in LA than everyone in greater Edmonchuck.

So what kind of player would happily sign (and stay) in Edmonton?

-Guys who love hockey as much as we do. Ryan Smyth was one of those. If he didn't get signed to a pro contract back in 94, he'd be a season ticket holding, beer swilling, late night rec hockey playing, face painting hockey dad rig pig just like the kind you see in the stands. He's gone now.

-Euros. Janne Niinimaa loved Edmonton. Petr Sykora loves Edmonton. Hemsky says he loves Edmonton. To a guy from across the pond (usually from Finland, Sweden, Russia) the weather in Edmonton ain't that bad and the money is just as good no matter what city the cheque is cashed in. And they're in the NHL and in North America. I went to Europe once in my life. I wanted to go and didn't care what city I was in as long as I could see another part of the world. A kid from Pardubice signs in Edmonton but he is in North America and rich. He gets to see California. He gets to travel to Florida and New York. He's busy enough during the season that leisure time is sparing anyway and they travel for at least half of the year. During off-season, he can go anywhere he wants.

-Family guys. I'm nearly a two-year member of the New Dad club. And I got an earlier start with a stepson. Instant family. Nightclubs, nightlife, glamour and other matter little compared to knowing that I'm in a nice, safe neighbourhood, the schools are decent and the future looks great. This is still a great place to raise a family, stabbings aside. Steve Staios and Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani all preach the gospel of the value of living in this city with their families. I suspect Ryan Smyth will live here this summer too. (Someone should see if a "for sale" sign has hit or hits the front lawn, especially after July 1st.) Find those classy veteran players and get them to see the attractiveness of signing in Edmonton and finding roots.

Where the hell was I?
Oh yeah. Every team in the league loses players.
Stop taking it so damn seriously just because some millionaire punk would rather play somewhere else.
Love your city and don't look to others to validate your choice of a hometown.