'Small-market syndrome' not to blame in Smyth deal

Updated: March 2, 2007, 7:41 PM ET
ESPN.com

AROUND THE RINK

One of the prevailing themes in the wake of the shocking trade of Ryan Smyth to Long Island, at least in Canada, was that, somehow, the collective bargaining agreement had failed small markets like Edmonton.

Now, hold on an oil-field second here.

Isn't Long Island one of those small markets? And Nashville, which nabbed Peter Forsberg? And Atlanta, which nabbed Keith Tkachuk? And San Jose, which added Bill Guerin?

Ryan Smyth

Calgary, Edmonton's small-market neighbor in Alberta, a team that faced the same crushing economic issues under the old system, added Brad Stuart, Wayne Primeau and Craig Conroy and is locked into a playoff berth.

As for the big markets, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York (Rangers), Colorado, Toronto and Montreal were all either sellers or made only small moves during the trade period. It's entirely possible all these big-market teams will miss the playoffs this season.

So, no, this isn't about market size or the system somehow failing the Canadian teams. This is about handling your assets. Or, in the case of the Edmonton Oilers, mishandling them.

In the wake of the lockout, people couldn't line up quickly enough to praise GM Kevin Lowe for his addition of Chris Pronger from perennial fat cat St. Louis. Lowe also brought in Michael Peca from the Islanders, who couldn't afford him (hello, Dr. Irony, please report to Rexall Place). Later, Lowe would make deadline deals to add Dwayne Roloson, Jaroslav Spacek, Sergei Samsonov and Dick Tarnstrom. The Oilers then went to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals and we again praised Lowe for his work. It was well-deserved praise.

But moments after the playoffs, Pronger announced he wanted out, and even though Lowe could have kept him, the Edmonton GM obliged. The Oilers got what appeared to be fair value, given the circumstances, with Ladislav Smid, Joffrey Lupul and two draft picks (one each in first and second rounds) and a conditional pick. The move hurt the team on the ice, but it freed up more than $6 million in cap space for each of the next four seasons. Lowe used that money to lock up other parts of the Oilers core, but not Smyth. In hindsight, Lowe should have focused on Smyth earlier. Perhaps he assumed that, at some point, Smyth and the team would find common ground, as they had in the past.

Regardless, if the team played better, or had been constructed better, if it got more offense out of a group that looked to be dynamic but was far from it, none of this would have happened.

Instead, the team floundered and neither Lowe nor Smyth would budge when the crucial moments came Tuesday afternoon. Blame falls on both sides of this fence, if blame is to be doled out.

But one thought -- with players such as Pronger, Spacek and even Tarnstrom fleeing the city, Lowe might have built up some good will within the hockey community by signing Smyth as a signal to other potential free agents that Edmonton isn't the wasteland it now resembles less than a year after coming that close to winning the Cup.

Still, that was Lowe's choice, not a choice foisted on him by the system. These are the realities all GMs face, the dilemmas all GMs confront, not just GMs in Canada, despite what conspiracy theorists north of the border might think.

NOT-SO-BRILLIANT IDEA
Just wondering who figured it would be a good idea to hold the Mark Messier celebration on the same night as the NHL's annual trade deadline.

We know it was nice Wayne Gretzky, coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, could be on hand (with his team), but there are planes even in northern Alberta and the Coyotes don't play every single day.

Maybe the Oilers believed playing Phoenix would represent a sure win to cap off the evening. It didn't, of course, as the Coyotes beat the hometown boys 3-0 Tuesday night, further burying Edmonton's faint playoff hopes. What's worse, the ceremony was tinged by bitterness and despair after the announcement of Smyth's trade earlier in the afternoon. No one could have foreseen that happening, but why take the chance?

We feel for GM Kevin Lowe, who didn't participate in the on-ice ceremony in part because he would have been booed off the ice. Despite his long connections to Messier and the dynastic Oilers teams, Lowe had the good grace to step back and let coach Craig MacTavish handle the introductions even though he would have loved to take part. Even Smyth avoided commenting on the deal so as not to take away from Messier's night.

None of which would have been at issue if the ceremony had been held any other night. All in all, a grand mess, if you'll pardon the expression.

--S.B.

NHL'S FATHER TIME
Chris Chelios checks in with Jim Rome.
SLAP SHOTS
DEADLINE HOLIDAY?
One GM wondered aloud to ESPN.com why there are games at all on deadline day. With the possibility of 30 or more NHL players on the move, wouldn't it be better to create a dead day in the schedule so players could more easily join their new teams? Now, all concerned have had their fill of scheduling headaches, but it might make more sense to keep deadline day clear of games or at least make sure the deadline coincides with a softer day in the schedule, like a Monday. For instance, there were only four games the night before the deadline this season as opposed to Tuesday's 11 matchups.
-- S.B.
HARD TIMES FOR McCABE
McCabe Interesting times for Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Bryan McCabe, who is in the first year of a massive five-year deal in Toronto and was the target of boobirds during Tuesday's 6-1 drubbing by the Sabres. Leafs fans periodically have targeted players in the past and made life unbearable for them regardless of how they've played. Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Murphy was booed mercilessly before being traded to Detroit in March 1997. More recently, it was Aki Berg. What will happen if McCabe is verbally assaulted every time he touches the puck? No matter how often a player tells reporters it doesn't affect his play, it does matter, and the Leafs can't afford to have a front-line defenseman worried about screwing up every time he steps on the ice. As for GM John Ferguson, already on the hot seat, he'd better hope this goes away before it becomes an untenable situation for McCabe and the team.
-- S.B.
ALL SID, ALL THE TIME
Crosby Nice job by NBC to rob Carolina and Atlanta fans of a chance to see their teams play in a crucial Southeast Division matchup this weekend. The game was, quite properly, originally scheduled to be one of NBC's national telecasts Sunday. But the network decided it wanted more Sidney Crosby and dumped the Thrashers-Hurricanes game, leaving no local television coverage in either market. Instead, fans in the East will get to see Crosby playing the NHL's worst team, Philadelphia. That'll be nice for all those Martin Biron fans. Memo to NBC: The NHL has 30 teams. We understand players named Hossa, Kovalchuk, Brind'Amour, Tkachuk, Ward, Staal and Stillman actually can play the game, too.
-- S.B.
FORWARD THINKING
Games on our radar the next few days:

Mike Modano • Sunday, Sharks at Stars, 3:30 p.m. ET: These two teams both retooled during the trade deadline period, and they are within a point of each other in the standings (Dallas has a couple of games in hand). Although it would take some doing to catch division-leading Anaheim, it's not out of the question for either team, especially red-hot Dallas. The dilemma for San Jose and Dallas: whichever finishes ahead of the other likely will end up with the fifth seed and draw either Detroit or Nashville in the first round. Not a pleasant prospect. One has to wonder whether secretly aiming to finish sixth and face Vancouver, Calgary or Minnesota wouldn't ultimately be a better way to go. Not that anyone from either team would ever voice such a plan.

Roberto Luongo • Sunday, Wild at Canucks, 10 p.m. ET: This tilt features two teams that did little during the trade period, hoping their chemistry and tight defensive systems will put them in good stead once the playoffs begin. The Canucks are the lowest-scoring team of the eight playoff teams in the West, and the Wild are 9-3-1 on the road since Jan. 11 after being one of the worst road teams in the first half of the season. The Wild also are facing a potential goaltending jam with Niklas Backstrom injured and starter Manny Fernandez still nursing a sprained knee. Watch for Josh Harding to start if neither Backstrom nor Fernandez is ready.
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