EL SEGUNDO, CA — After sitting at the station, watching the unrestricted free agent train pass him by on July 1 and then signing veteran free agent defenseman Rob Scuderi on July 2, which did nothing to fill the gaping hole the Kings had on left wing, Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi earned at least a bit of redemption on July 3 when he acquired left wing Ryan Smyth from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defensemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing and a fifth round pick in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft.
The trade is contingent upon the results of physical examinations of the players involved in the deal.
Last season, Smyth scored 26 goals and added 33 assists for 59 points in 77 games. He led the Avalanche in assists and was second on the team in goals. He was also tied for the team lead in power play goals (10) and game-winning goals (3). He also led the team with 257 shots.
In fourteen NHL seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders and the Avalanche, Smyth has scored 310 goals and has added 350 assists for 660 points with 733 penalty minutes in 920 regular season games. In 81 playoff games, the 6-1, 190-pound native of Banff, Alberta has scored 25 goals and has contributed 27 assists for 52 points with 82 penalty minutes.
Smyth, who was selected by the Oilers in the first round (sixth overall) of the 1994 National Hockey League Entry Draft, had his best season in 2000-01 with the Oilers when he scored 31 goals and added 39 assists for 70 points in 82 regular season games (for more details on Smyth’s NHL career, see “Kings Get All-Star Forward Smyth”).
The Kings had to give up some talent to get Smyth with the 23-year-old Quincey, who had a rather eye-opening debut season in the NHL after the Kings claimed him off of waivers from the Detroit Red Wings on October 13, 2009, going to Colorado.
Nevertheless, in the end, this was a deal that Lombardi not only had to make, but he also had the assets available to do it.
One look at the depth he has built on his blue line, from the Kings roster down to the minors and even junior hockey—mostly through the draft, explains why Lombardi was able to deal Quincey.
But back to that hole on left wing…
Indeed, after sitting on the unrestricted free agent sidelines on July 1 and then signing Scuderi the next day, the Kings still needed a top six left winger and the outcry was loud and clear from both the fans and media.
And for those of you who have read my story, “July 1 Was The Time For Dean Lombardi To Gamble,” yes, I am writing this piece while looking in a mirror.
Yes, give Lombardi credit. He stuck to his plan by going after a player he believes is the right guy.
“Ryan is the type of player who fits with our team,” said Lombardi. “He fills an important need as he is a competitive, gritty, scoring left winger, and he fits with the overall identity we continue to build here.”
Lombardi has been preaching character, leadership, competitiveness and grit since he arrived in Southern California and Smyth is definitely a skilled winger who has exhibited all of those characteristics throughout his NHL career—he will set a solid example for the young Kings.
Further, Smyth is known for driving hard to the net, parking his butt there, scoring the tough, dirty goals and paying the price to do it, something the young Kings did not do anywhere near enough last season, a deficiency that head coach Terry Murray has pointed to as a problem.
One can only hope that the Kings’ young forwards watch and learn.
“I don’t get the unbelievable-looking goals,” Smyth told LAKings.com. “I get the so-called greasy goals, the ones around the goal crease area. I pay the price in front of the net and I battle hard for the team. I drive the net pretty hard.”
“Over the years, that has been one of my strengths,” Smyth added. “I look to continue that as I move forward with my new team.”
Smyth just completed the second year of a five-year contract worth $31.25-million (a $6.25 million annual salary cap hit) that includes a no-trade clause that he waived to join the Kings.
“Everything was handled very well and professionally,” said Smyth. “Colorado and LA had the conversation, and my agent approached me. Colorado said they had an offer on the table and they asked if I would think about it with my wife. We talked it over and got back to [agent Don Meehan]. The process went from there and we are very excited.”
The Avalanche are starting a rebuilding program of their own.
“That was a part of the process between myself and Colorado,” Smyth explained. “They said they were going to rebuild and they were given a green light to get rid of some salary. I just wanted the opportunity to go and play with some good young players. I wanted a chance to make a run.”
“They have great young players,” Smyth elaborated. “I’ve always thought the world of Anze Kopitar since playing against him at the World Championships in Austria where he dominated. To play with him and Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown—these are great young players and I’m excited about that.”
Another big positive from this deal is that Lombardi was able to dump Preissing, who was never able to get untracked under Murray’s new system that stressed defense, and his four-year, $11 million contract. He had two years left on the deal with a $2.75 million salary cap hit in each year.
With the NHL salary cap expected to drop considerably in 2010-11, moving Preissing’s salary off the books gives Lombardi greater fiexibility with his roster and could help him re-sign his own players, such as Drew Doughty, and even bring in an unrestricted free agent, should one or more who are the right fit be available.
So what is the downside to the deal? Easy. Smyth is 33 years old, is on the downside of his career and has a bit of an injury history. In fact, Smyth has played all 82 games just four times in fourteen seasons.
But Smyth’s positives outweigh the negatives and just as July 1 was the time for Lombardi to gamble, Smyth is also worth the risk—this was a very solid trade for Lombardi and the Kings.
One more thing…Smyth also plays rather well in Los Angeles.
“My first game was at the Forum in Inglewood,” said Smyth. “My first NHL shift was against Wayne Gretzky. Overall, I have seemed to play well in LA. I look to continue that now.”
“It is a great transition for my family and myself, and I just want to be a piece of the puzzle,” added Smyth. “I want to contribute to the winning side. I look forward to getting settled in as a family.”
Photo: Ryan Smyth. Courtesy Colorado Avalanche/National Hockey League.
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