While these days the Kings are jokingly referred to as Flyers-West, there was a time many years ago when they were Oilers-South.
In fact, the Kings most bitter rival for much of the ’80’s and ’90s was Edmonton. The two teams already didn’t like each other long before the 1988 trade for Wayne Gretzky and they almost always seemed to meet up in the playoffs.
It wasn’t only players and fans that had a disdain for each other though. Even Bob Miller, the voice of the Kings, said “I hated the Oilers (of the early 80’s), their arrogance really bugged me.”
Adding to the decades long drama is a list of guys who have suited up on both sides of the rivalry. In Los Angeles, besides the obvious one in Gretzky, it’s a group that includes names from the past like Kurri, McSorley, Conacher and Fuhr…to more recent names like Buchberger, Greene and Stoll.
When it comes to a Kings-Oilers game though, it’s the number 99 that’s linked most strongly to the two franchises. However, tonight Ryan Smyth goes one digit beyond. This will be his 100th game as a King.
Nobody will ever know if the NHL schedule makers set it up that way on purpose or it’s just another one of those schedule quirks that helps write a perfect script. Rather convenient though for a guy who played the bulk of his career with one of the teams and now finds himself on the other side of the ice.
Even more symbolic is the fact that on January 22, 1995, Smyth debuted for the Oilers during a road trip. Their opponent that night? Yes, they were in Los Angeles to face the Kings at the old Forum in Inglewood. Although the Oilers won 4-3, Smyth doesn’t quite remember most of the details beyond the first period.
“Ron Lowe was the coach and I was sitting on the bench. The face-off was going to be just outside our blue line. He said ‘Alright Smitty, go out.’ Wayne Gretzky was right across, at center. I was like ‘Holy jeez.’ I was standing there looking at him. He got kicked out (of the face-off), so he was standing right next to me.” Smyth recalls.
“That was my first NHL shift. Obviously, him being my childhood hero and both of us being there with Edmonton, it was just a thrill. I honestly can’t remember much after that, other than playing a few shifts.”
Perhaps having that first big moment of his career take place in Los Angeles was something that motivated him when he had the chance to come and play here.
“The excitement surrounding the direction of this team and where they were going, knowing a lot of great players had come and gone through here, plus the ones in the rafters too – it’s special to be part of the Kings.” said Smyth. “With my history here, including the first game, that certainly added something. It’s all about opportunities and excitement at this point and I’ve relished every opportunity.”
Back when he was with the Oilers they made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006. But, by the end of the following season he had been traded out of town. So, has he kept up with the Oilers and observed some of the tough times they’ve gone through?
“I have some friends on the team and we talk occasionally. It’s been quite a transition and a tough span of times for the organization. They didn’t expect it and I don’t think the guys expected it of themselves. But, they have a great nucleus of young players that are coming up and coming through – including Taylor Hall with the first selection last year and Jordan Eberle and a few other kids. They have tremendous upside. So, it’s going to be exciting to play against them again.”
There’s a large collection of former great Oilers who have eventually made their way south. However, none of them have been able to raise a Cup in LA.
Could Smyth be the one to change history?
He was brought here to teach the kids how to win and score goals. He’s done both.
If he eventually brings a Cup too, wouldn’t that make him forever a King, not an Oiler?
What Shoulda Been – Kings vs. Oilers, November 2009