|Los Angeles Kings' Ryan Smyth believes in Kings bright future.
Ryan Smyth didn't waive his no-trade clause to go to Pittsburgh or Chicago or Detroit for a playoff run. No, he waived it over the summer to go to the Los Angeles Kings, a team that hasn't seen the postseason since Jason Allison, Ziggy Palffy and Adam Deadmarsh formed their top line in 2001-02.
So, no, you can't accuse Smyth of chasing the Stanley Cup like a veteran on a mission to fulfill his dream before it's too late.
Then again, could that be precisely what "Captain Canada" is doing in Los Angeles?
"I do really believe there is something special about the Kings," Smyth told NHL.com. "You mention the (Drew) Doughtys and the (Anze) Kopitars -- these types of players -- they're so young, but they're so good. To be a part of it is awesome."
Smyth says all he wants to be is "an added extra piece of the puzzle" that GM Dean Lombardi has put together, but everyone knows he is so much more than that.
The Kings have built through the draft and developed their own like Kopitar, Doughty and Dustin Brown
, to name a few, but the must-haves for playoff teams are elements of experience and character to go along with that talented youth.
Smyth delivers both in spades and it's looking like he has come to the Kings at the perfect time. Their young players are ripening and need someone like Smyth to get them over the proverbial hump.
Time will tell, but the early returns are favorable. Smyth had 9 goals and 14 assists in 22 games for the Kings despite going down with an upper body injury during a 4-3 shootout win over the Florida Panthers on Nov. 16. He missed 15 games before being activated Friday.
Smyth's presence, in the dressing room and in front of the net, has been a welcome addition to a club that desperately needed an infusion of veteran savvy after staying in the playoff race until mid-March last season before dropping 10 of its final 15 games.
"He's had a lot of impact in our locker room," Kopitar told NHL.com. "Just coming to the rink and being professional all the time, and just have a smile on his face all the time, I think makes everyone more relaxed. We need that, too, since we are a young team."
"He's an experienced player and one of the best in the League," added Doughty. "Having him on our team, on the ice and in the room, he's going to help us in all areas."
Smyth, now considered a wily vet at 33-years-old, is benefitting, too.
The youth factor in the dressing room, coupled with the laid-back, sunny L.A. lifestyle has rejuvenated his career, which many critics believed was on the downturn after two somewhat disappointing seasons in Colorado.
"If you want to call it a fresh start or a new chapter, these young guys make it fun," Smyth said. "You compete hard and you get rewarded with wins. I have really enjoyed playing with Kopi and Willie at this point and hopefully we can continue our success."
Ironically, Smyth landed in Colorado two seasons ago under similar pretenses.
He was a high-priced, big-ticket free agent acquisition who was lured to Denver knowing he could be the perfect complement to a young, budding superstar center in Paul Stastny.
Things didn't go exactly as planned. Smyth played only 55 games in 2007-08 due to nagging injuries and Stastny was limited to 45 games last season thanks to a broken forearm and a broken foot.
"It was unfortunate the fact that we had the team on paper to go to another level and every time we seemed to get going somebody would get hurt, whether it was Joe Sakic or Paul Stastny," Smyth said. "We just couldn't rebound."
When the Avalanche presented Smyth the opportunity to waive his no-trade clause to go to L.A., he said he thought about the youngsters and the potential for success on the Hollywood stage, and together with his wife, Stacey, the decision became easy.
The season is young, but a re-energized Smyth already is convinced he made the right call.
"I'm not going to change my game," said Smyth, who has made a career of scoring goals from directly in front of the net. "I'm going to keep going with the way I play and hopefully get rewarded by my teammates saying, 'This guy doesn't quit. He goes hard to the net. Let's follow his lead.' I want to be a leader by example."
VANCOUVER ON HIS MIND
Ryan Smyth's experience and loyalty to Hockey Canada has him on the radar for the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. Now he has to prove, at age 33 and with lots of wear and tear on his body, that he's still capable of playing his incredibly intense, dangerous and inspired brand of winning hockey.
"Captain Canada," known throughout the League as one of the most courageous character players in the game, is proving that to the powers that be in Hockey Canada with his successful start to the 2009-10 season, but the injury that cost him 15 regular-season games, may prove costly to Smyth when it comes to selecting the power-packed Canadian lineup.
"Obviously I have played for my country, played in the Olympics, and it's special," Smyth told NHL.com. "Would I like to play? There's no question. That gives it an added push and we'll see what happens from there."
Smyth, who is from Banff, Alta., barely could describe what making the Canadian roster for these particular Olympic Games would mean to him.
"Obviously it was special to win gold (in 2002), but I think being up there would top that for sure," Smyth said.
Smyth, in fact, is so intent on making the squad that he makes sure to watch how the other players, his competition, are doing for their club teams. He doesn't go far into analytics, comparing their season to his season, but "you keep tabs on them," he said.
Of course, anyone who makes the Canada roster will be under intense pressure and scrutiny from fans in the hockey-crazed nation. Smyth, as patriotic as anyone who has played for Canada in international events, wants to feel that kind of pressure.
He said he thrives on it.
"We know as Canadians that we take our hockey seriously and winning gold would be for sure in the forefront of everybody's minds, and rightly so," he said. "Canadians take pride in that kind of stuff. It's important that we find a way to get to a level where we can be the top country."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer