EDMONTON — Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Smyth is calling it a career after tipping in shots and absorbing spine-jarring jolts standing in front of goalies for 18 NHL seasons.
Smyth said Friday his body was still willing, but with his young children getting older, his mind was wandering.
“The mental side of the game, I didn’t have it at times,” Smyth told a news conference at Rexall Place, with his family on hand.
“I’ve got a wonderful family that I miss out on a lot of their stuff. That (became) a factor.
“There comes a time in my life where you have to turn the page.”
The 38-year-old known for his famous mullet was also a stalwart on Team Canada.
He 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 thanked everyone from former teammates to the Oilers’ massage therapist in a speech that saw the scrappy forward fight back tears.
Sitting beside him at the news conference was Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish.
“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.
Smyth has 386 goals and 456 assists and 974 penalty minutes in 1,269 games heading into Edmonton’s Saturday 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.
The team is preparing a tribute to the Banff, Alta., native during Saturday’s game.
Asked what he’ll miss the most about the game, Smyth said the it will be the journey itself.
“Being on the ice surface, the adrenalin, the excitement, obviously your teammates,” he said.
“I’ll for sure miss the guys.”
What was the highlight, he was asked.
“Probably playing a thousand games and coming back and being an Edmonton Oiler.”
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.
Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens said Smyth’s trademark goals come from a mix of skill and guts.
“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.”
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. 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.
He 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 then 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.
He 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.
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.
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.