Why It Really Sucks to Know You Are Trade Bait, and Why Ryan Smyth Doesn’t Cry Anymore by "the Prof"

Sheldon Souray’s picture in the OilersInsider started it. And, recently I have been thinking about what it must feel like to know that your team – and I am thinking the Oilers here – are willing to trade you away. Perhaps for the rest of us, it might be like knowing that your husband or wife (boyfriend or girlfriend) has found another “friend.” Too radical? I don’t think so.

For the typical hockey fan, the game is not life or death – when it comes down to it, it is only a game. Win or lose, we go back to our everyday lives. Watching hockey and rooting for our Oilers is a social activity – we feel connected and have something to talk about with our friends. We are a part of, as the Edmonton Journal notes on its Oilers’ website, “Oil-Country” Hockey. Anything more rabid than this constitutes obsession and is, frankly, psychological illness. We shout; we yell; we cheer; we are disappointed or elated for awhile; we go home and live our lives. Then we do it all again next year. That is the way it is, and we all deep down get it.

But, for the players involved, this is life. In so many ways, it is all they know – do or die. They are absolutely committed – all in. It is more than a game. They think about it all season and they plan for the season by working out continuously in the off-season. Certainly, they get paid well for playing hockey; but, my point is that there is more going on here than money – much more. So many of these young men have few other skills and nowhere else to go. Many have dropped out of high school young to pursue a hockey dream and career. They have nothing else. If they are to be successful, they have to be completely motivated to be hockey players.

During interviews after a trade, the standard line always seems to be: “I realize it is only a business.” What a lie. For those players, it is more than a business. Perhaps Ryan Smyth’s response after leaving the Oilers was the closest I have seen to what the truth really feels like. He cried. He could not believe it.

Perhaps the rumors are true that Smyth’s agent pushed the Oilers and the Oilers felt they “could do without” Smyth. Even more diabolical really – when our beloved Oilers decide to show a committed warrior that they “can do without him.” But, could Smyth do without the Oilers at that moment? Obviously, he didn’t think so. He was part of a community, and suddenly he was estranged from that community. These were his friends and co-workers, and now suddenly they were the hated enemy. Personally, I can only even imagine Smyth’s feeling when I think about the most rotten things that have ever happened to me – being dumped and rejected.

Now, Ryan Smyth has been traded again. Sadly, it is probably easier this time than the first. If so, it is only because Ryan has replaced his heart with his cheque book. Perhaps Ryan has become more business and less hockey teammate. If so, it is too bad. I loved the Ryan Smyth who cried when he was traded to the Islanders. It was that same Ryan Smyth who took a birthday cake to the 90 year old woman in Edmonton who was his great fan. It was the same Smyth who took a beating to stand in front of the goalie fighting for a tip in.

Does that Ryan Smyth still exist? Or has he become too cynical to really give his heart and soul for anything other than money? I don’t blame him if he has. It has to make one skeptical about life to be removed and replaced over and over again. It has to make you become self-protective. It has to make you become solitary. It certainly makes you a better businessman, but a poorer teammate.

So, for whoever leaked the names of Dustin Penner, or Andrew Cogilano, or Ladi Smid, I hope your toilet plugs up and soaks your house. Don’t cry foul when things go bad for you – when the people you have created (like Dany Heatley) turn on you using your own weapons. You have started three kids (and believe me these young players are kids) down a road that cannot be fun.

It is sad really; and, I wonder what I might say to Penner, or Cogilano, or Smid if they were my friends, or my sons. Probably I would tell them – “Listen, it is only a game. It isn’t real life.” But, in my heart I know I would be lying. For any of these players, this is not only real life; it is probably the only real life they have. And, it is a potentially heart-breaking reality for a young man who is only 24 years old.

Perhaps it is no wonder that many of our athletes come to act, in the words of many watching the Dany Heatley fiasco, like “spoiled brats.” Perhaps being a spoiled brat becomes a survival mechanism in a world where the regular friendships of youth increasingly come in second to relationships with money. Really, think about it! We all know in our hearts where replacing people with money will lead.


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