This one final time, Ryan Smyth will get to say goodbye to Oilers fans with his dignity intact.

Minutes before the Oilers took the ice to play the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night, word began circulating — first from TSN insider Bob McKenzie — that Ryan Smyth was on the cusp of retiring, that he will play his final NHL game in an 18-year career on Saturday night at Rexall Place against the Vancouver Canucks.

Asked directly about the 38-year-old Smyth’s retirement, Oilers GM Craig MacTavish would not comment, but he did not deny it was imminent. MacTavish said it would be up to Smyth to announce his own plans.

It is believed he will do so at a 2 p.m. news conference Friday, with an on-ice ceremony on Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada. Smyth deserves a special send-off as much as any Oiler in the club’s history and more than most.

A native of Banff, Smyth said a sorrowful goodbye to Edmonton from the international airport back in February 2007 after he and the Oilers were unable to reach agreement on a new contract and then GM Kevin Lowe traded him to the New York Islanders for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra and a first-round draft pick, rather than lose him to free agency.

Coincidentally, that unforgettable and, for many fans, profoundly sad deadline deal occurred the same day the Oilers lifted icon Mark Messier’s jersey to the Rexall Place rafters, where it hangs beside those of Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr and Al Hamilton.

It made for a bizarre scene at Rexall Place that night, with Messier basking in the adulation of Oilers fans, even as they vilified Lowe for trading away a heart-and-soul, blue-collar winger like Smyth.