Smyth: This is not what my family and I had in store
After the Edmonton Oilers couldn't reach a new deal with their franchise face and fan favorite, they dealt the star forward to the Isles just minutes before Tuesday's 3 p.m. ET mark. The Oilers received prospects Robert Nilsson and Ryan O'Marra -- both first-round draft picks -- and a first-round selection in this year's draft.
A tearful Smyth spoke to reporters on Wednesday at Edmonton International Airport, where he and his family were preparing to board a flight for New York. Smyth is expected to be in the Islanders' lineup Thursday night when they host the St. Louis Blues.
"I just wanted to say thanks to everybody," Smyth said. "This is not what my family and I had in store. I'd just like to thank the Edmonton Oilers organization for the opportunity to play in the NHL. It's a privilege to play in the NHL. It's an honor.
"I never thought it would come to this day," Smyth added. "I've got to turn the page and start a new chapter in life. The New York Islanders have given me that opportunity and I thank them for this. I'm going to go there and do my best and make the playoffs and win that [Stanley] Cup, so I can bring it down here to Edmonton -- because that's where my heart is."
Smyth also said he had no hard feelings against GM Kevin Lowe or the Oilers organization for how things played out. He declined comment Tuesday, saying he did not want to take away any attention from Mark Messier Night in Edmonton.
Smyth's agent Don Meehan said Tuesday that he and the Oilers talked over the last 24 hours but couldn't get a deal done.
"I'm surprised actually given what Ryan is to the community and what he has been to the franchise," Meehan said. "But I understand that with all due respect they have the ability to make these decisions and that's what management has to do in these circumstances."
Smyth, 31, is making $3.5 million this season and is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, meaning the Oilers were at risk of losing him for nothing in the offseason. It's believed he had been hoping for a long-term deal with the Oilers worth at least $5 million a season.
Smyth led the Oilers in scoring this season with 31 goals and 22 assists in 53 games. But the Oilers are facing long odds to reach the playoffs. Heading into Tuesday's game against Phoenix, they trailed the Calgary Flames by nine points for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. New York sat in seventh place in the East after Tuesday's action.
Smyth didn't have the look of a player that was about to be dealt during the pregame skate in the morning. He skated hard through drills and joked with his teammates. While taking off his equipment, he carefully examined a white board outlining the schedule for Mark Messier's number retirement ceremony later Tuesday.
The addition of Smyth could be just the lift the Islanders need to make a strong Stanley Cup run, coach Ted Nolan said on Wednesday.
Nolan said the acquisition had lifted morale in the Islanders' locker room.
"I mentioned to a couple of guys that we got Ryan, and the excitement on their faces and the smile on their faces, they looked like six-year-old kids back in junior hockey," said Nolan in a conference call.
Smyth's leadership qualities would be a real asset to his new team, he added.
"Probably the most important thing is his demeanour and his attitude and his character inside that dressing room," the Islanders' first-year coach said.
It is arguably the biggest trade the Oilers have made since sending Messier to the New York Rangers in 1991. While they dealt players like Doug Weight and Jason Arnott after that, neither player was beloved like Smyth in Edmonton.
A native of nearby Banff, Smyth was drafted by the Oilers sixth overall in 1994 and had spent his entire career with the team. He is known for his tough, gritty play in front of the net, where he has a knack for drawing penalties or tipping in shots.
"I think Ryan offers a lot to a franchise, I think he offers a great deal to any competitive team within the league," Meehan. "Yes, there was a degree of compromise and I'll convey to you that both sides compromised throughout this process but not to the degree where we both felt comfortable that we could come to a deal."
Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.
NHL TRADE DEADLINE
The NHL broke all of its deadline trade records last season with 25 deals putting 40 players on the move. This season hasn't been as busy, but teams aren't sitting on their hands either. Here's the deadline action:
• Trade Tracker: Take a look at all the deals
• Oilers send Smyth to Isles
• Sharks get Guerin from Blues
• Wings acquire Bertuzzi from Panthers
• Roberts waives no-trade, goes to Pens
• Pens add enforcer Laraque from Coyotes
• Kings send captain Norstrom to Stars
• Veteran Perreault traded to Leafs
• Sabres deal Biron, add Caps' Zubrus for stretch
• Avs deal vet May, get Parker from Sharks