Ryan Smyth was brought to tears upon learning he had been traded from the only NHL team he had ever known. His return to Edmonton promises to be just as emotional.
Smyth makes his first appearance in Edmonton as a member of the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night when the Northwest Division rivals meet for the first time this season.
Smyth spent his first 12 seasons with the Oilers after they made the Alberta native the sixth overall pick in the 1994 draft. He had 265 goals and 549 points with Edmonton, helping the team get to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2005-06.
While always a productive and hard-working player, Smyth became one of the most popular players in team history as much for his devotion to the city off the ice. Playing for his native country in the 2002 and 2006 Olympics, and in several World Championships, earned him the nickname "Captain Canada".
However, with free agency looming and unable to reach an agreement on a new contract with their star forward, the Oilers made the difficult decision to send Smyth to the New York Islanders at last season's trade deadline for two prospects and a 2007 first-round draft pick.
On Feb. 28, Smyth held an emotional news conference at the Edmonton International Airport.
"I never thought it would come to this day," Smyth said while choking back tears. "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."
Smyth played 18 regular-season games for the Islanders and five more in their first-round loss to Buffalo. He signed a five-year, $31 million contract with the Avalanche on July 1, meaning he will make four visits this season to Edmonton.
Smyth has three goals and three assists in his first eight games with Colorado.
Although they finished with an impressive 15-2-2 run last season, the Avalanche (4-4-0) missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993-94. They became the first team in league history to record at least 93 points and not qualify for the postseason.
Colorado was one of the few teams last season to play as well on the road as it did at home, finishing with 22 wins away from Denver, the fourth-highest total in the Western Conference.
This season, however, poor road play has been an issue for the Avalanche, one of three teams in the West without a road victory. They have been outscored 16-6 while going 2-for-18 on the power play in four road contests.
Peter Budaj was beaten by Mikko Koivu with 3:04 left in regulation Sunday, sending Colorado to a 3-2 loss at Minnesota.
"We've got to get it to overtime," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We can't give up late goals like that or you end up with nothing. That's something we dealt with last year. We got better late in the year, but we can't wait to apply that lesson."
Another area of concern for Quenneville is in net, where neither Budaj nor expensive backup Jose Theodore have played very well.
Budaj has three of the team's four wins but his 3.33 goals-against average ranks near the bottom of the league. Theodore, meanwhile, has allowed eight goals in his two starts and sports an ugly .879 save percentage.
Right wing Milan Hejduk - tied for second on Colorado with four goals - missed Sunday's game with a back injury and is day-to-day.
Avs captain Joe Sakic has a goal in three straight games against the Oilers (3-5-0), who have lost five of six since opening the season with wins over San Jose and Philadelphia.
Rookie Sam Gagner scored his first NHL goal but the Oilers gave up the game's final three scores Saturday in a 4-1 loss at Calgary.
"We played a decent second period and we started off in the first half of the third period very well too. Then we had a good opportunity on the power play and we made some idiotic decisions on our breakouts, bringing the puck out into traffic, totally out of synch," coach Craig MacTavish said.
Edmonton is one of the league's worst offensive teams with 18 goals in eight games, scoring once on 33 power-play chances. No other team has fewer than four power-play goals.
Dwayne Roloson has struggled lately against the Avalanche, going 2-4-0 with a 5.33 GAA in his last six starts.
The Avalanche went 4-3-1 against the Oilers last season, including 3-0-1 at Edmonton. Colorado has at least one point in eight of its last 10 visits (7-2-1) to Rexall Place.