Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Smyth says he will retire at the end of the season.
The NHL veteran, who was also a stalwart on Team Canada, was drafted sixth overall by Edmonton in 1994 and spent most of his 18-season career in Alberta’s capital.
He mixed grit with a scoring touch and became the face of the post-Wayne Gretzky Oilers, leading the team to a Stanley Cup final appearance in 2006.
Smyth, 38, made the announcement at a news conference with Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish. Smyth thanked everyone from former teammates to the Oilers’ massage therapist in a speech that saw the scrappy forward fighting back tears.
“There comes a time in my life where you have to turn the page, and today I’m doing that,” Smyth said. “As hard as it is to say goodbye to the game of hockey, I’m blessed that God has given me the ability and the passion (for) this great game and to have had the opportunity to play for as long as I have.”
He has 386 goals and 456 assists and 974 penalty minutes in 1,269 games heading into Edmonton’s season finale against the visiting Vancouver Canucks. He added 59 points (28-31) and 88 penalty minutes in 93 career playoff games.
He also earned the nickname “Captain Canada” for his loyalty to Canada’s men’s national team.
“There are many players that have worn the Edmonton Oilers jersey, but there are no players who wore the jersey that had more passion than Ryan Smyth,” MacTavish said.
Saturday’s game against the Canucks will be the last in the storied career for the winger from Banff, Alta.
Teammates said he will be remembered as a blue-collar workhorse who made his living with a big stick in front of the net, deflecting and tipping in point shots and passes while taking a hellacious beating.
Oilers winger David Perron said he grew up idolizing Smyth.
“He was always around the net being greasy and scoring goals that everyone was like, ‘How did that go in? Oh, Ryan Smyth scored again.’ At the end of the year he’d have 30-40 goals,” said Perron after practice Friday.
Oiler goaltender Ben Scrivens said Smyth’s trademark goals come from a mix of skill and courage.
“He’s always in position but never stops the puck, and it makes it really difficult to see pucks because no matter which way you look it seems like he’s there,” said Scrivens.
“It’s a talent he acquired through hard work and just sacrificing his body.
“Many people knock goalies for standing in front of slapshots, but at least we have the gear to protect ourselves.”
Smyth played at least 40 games as an Oiler in 14 of his 18 seasons. He blossomed in his first full season with the team in 1996-97, when he had 61 points (39 goals and 22 assists) in 82 games.
Smyth was a steady force up front in Edmonton early in his career and offered a nice mix of scoring prowess and grit. The six-foot-two 191-pounder played a key role in the Oilers’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
Smyth had 16 points (7-9) in 24 games that post-season as the Oilers dropped a seven-game series to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Smyth was shipped to the New York Islanders at the trade deadline during the 2006-07 season. Long-term contract negotiations between Smyth’s agent, Don Meehan, and Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe went to the 11th hour but the two sides couldn’t reach a deal.
With Smyth due to become a free agent that summer, Lowe didn’t want to risk losing him for nothing in the off-season. Smyth said goodbye to Edmonton during an emotional news conference at the city airport.
The Oilers got Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra and New York’s first-round pick in that year’s draft in the deal.
Smyth played two seasons with Colorado and two more with Los Angeles before he asked Kings GM Dean Lombardi for a trade in 2011. A deal was finalized in June of that year when the Oilers gave up forward Colin Fraser and a seventh-round draft choice in the 2012 draft to re-acquire Smyth.
He has provided some veteran leadership on a young Oilers squad over his last three seasons.
Saturday will be Smyth’s last chance to set a team record for power-play goals. Smyth and Glenn Anderson have 126 each, one ahead of Gretzky.
Perron said Saturday’s game will be special.
“It will be pretty emotional for him tomorrow. Even for us,” said Perron. “It’s a pretty sad day.”
Internationally, Smyth played at two Winter Games, helping Canada win gold at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.
Smyth also won gold at the World Cup of Hockey in 2004 and represented Canada at seven straight world hockey championship during his prime.