It was like old times as Mark Messier brought Edmonton fans to their feet on Tuesday night. The only difference was he failed to inspire the hometown Oilers to victory.
Messier, who celebrated five of his six career Stanley Cups with the Oilers before retiring in 2005, had his No. 11 raised to the rafters of Rexall Place in an emotional ceremony prior to Edmonton's 3-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.
The 46-year-old Edmonton native is the sixth member of the Oilers so honoured, joining Al Hamilton (3), Paul Coffey (7), Jari Kurri (17), Grant Fuhr (31) and Wayne Gretzky (99), now head coach of the Coyotes.
"One of the reasons that made it so special to play here is that I was born and raised here," Messier told the capacity crowd of 16,839 in attendance.
But the ceremony, combined with the shocking trade of leading scorer Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders earlier in the day, proved too much for the Oilers (30-28-6) to process as they mustered just two shots on Curtis Joseph in the first period.
Joseph finished with 26 saves for his fourth shutout this season and 51st in the NHL, including 14 with Edmonton.
"It has been a pretty crazy day," Oilers forward Fernando Pisani said.
Owen Nolan, rookie Yanick Lehoux and Steven Reinprecht scored as the Coyotes (27-33-3) peppered Dwayne Roloson with 32 shots.
Shane Doan and Derek Morris each had two assists.
Dressed in a vintage Oilers uniform, Messier skated a lap around the ice with the Stanley Cup to a tumultous standing ovation and was already in tears by the time he placed it on a table at centre ice.
"I want to thank each and every one of you for all of your support," Messier said. "This [franchise] is an institution in the world of sports."
"Mark, that skate brought back great memories," Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish noted. "Welcome back to centre ice with the Edmonton Oilers."
Messier ranks second in career points behind the incomparable Gretzky, a longtime friend and teammate with the Oilers and New York Rangers.
"Tonight would not have been the same without Wayne being here," Messier said. "Wayne was our leader, he was our inspiration.
"He was the guy we leaned on. And he never let us down and never put himself above anybody."
Other former teammates taking part in the 40-minute tribute included MacTavish, Coffey and Glenn Anderson.
"Nobody can do it by themselves and I had so much support, starting with the guys here," Messier said. "It is good to be back home."
Messier, considered one of the finest leaders in professional sports, is the only player in NHL history to captain two teams to Stanley Cups, accomplishing the feat with Edmonton in 1990 and New York in 1994.
The Rangers retired his sweater number on Jan. 12, 2006.
The 16-time all-star also captained the Vancouver Canucks during his 25-year NHL career, totalling 694 goals and 1,887 points in 1,856 games.
"After all is said and done and retirement has come and the championships are gone, it's really about the people you have met and the relationships you've been able to forge over the years," Messier said.
NHL trade deadline
As mentioned, the Oilers dealt Smyth to the New York Islanders at the NHL trade deadline for forwards Robert Nilsson and Ryan O'Marra and a first-round draft pick.
The Coyotes claimed forward Niko Kapanen off waivers from the Atlanta Thrashers.
They also shipped forward Oleg Saprykin and a second-rounder to the Ottawa Senators for a second-rounder and packaged forward Yanic Perreault with a fifth-rounder to the Toronto Maple Leafs for rookie defenceman Brendan Bell and a second-rounder.