Of the Oilers’ pending unrestricted free agents, none is more vital to the team than Ladislav Smid.
It’s been a long, hard road for Smid and the Oilers. When Edmonton acquired him as one of the key pieces in return for Chris Pronger, Smid was a mess. He arguably wasn’t ready for the NHL in 2006-07, when the combination of injuries and a thin blue line propelled him into a role that saw him play more than 19:00 per game – including, remarkably, an average of 1:11 per night on the power play. The seasons that followed featured an abundance of growing pain as the prospect developed into a player.
But all the developmental pain associated with turning Smid into a top-four defenceman has had a payoff. Oilers assistant coach Steve Smith described the player he’s become back in January:
He’s a guy who will block a shot, will take it in the teeth, well, there’s no teeth left because he’s taken so many, but he’s a guy who will do whatever is asked of him. He’s a great leader in the locker room. He’s a vocal guy… he’s accepted his role, and he’s very good at his role, and because of that he’s going to play for a long time. He was a guy that was a little bit almost schizophrenic two or three years ago, but now he’s settled into really comfortable place where he knows what he has to do to have success, and because of that has really helped our team success.
Smid isn’t the most gifted player in the world offensively, but he can both pass and skate with the puck and he’s solid defensively. His 2013 season has had some ups and downs, but based on the last few years it doesn’t seem unreasonable to imagine a contending Oilers team with Smid on the left side of the second pairing. Add in the fact that the coaches like him in the room, and that he wants to stay in Edmonton (something Bob Stauffer has repeatedly asserted on his show), and he seems like a natural fit for another contract.
Interestingly, it seems that contract hasn’t been the topic of much discussion between Smid and the Oilers. The following comes from the always-excellent Elliotte Friedman:
The Oilers have some big decisions to make, too. Ryan Whitney is getting traded for sure. What’s interesting is it doesn’t seem like there’s been much conversation with UFA-to-be Ladislav Smid. The defenceman is just 27. The only other free agent who will be younger than him and really plays is teammate Mark Fistric. I’m a little surprised they haven’t talked much, because that position is a weakness for Edmonton.
Friedman’s surprise is understandable. It’s been about two weeks since Lowetide wrote a piece on this very subject, and he laid out a similar case. From his conclusion:
Some decisions are tougher than others. No matter how the Oilers proceed with roster makeup plans, Ladislav Smid is vital to the blue. He is still young enough to be here when the team starts winning, he has a lot of experience he can pass along to youngsters who are perhaps overwhelmed by the leap, and he is (from all we know) a solid citizen. Losing him would set back an already thin blue line and mean the club gets even younger defensively.
Dollars might be an issue – players like Josh Gorges ($3.9 million/season) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic ($4.25 million/season) representing the upper limit for a pure defensive defenceman. It would be understandable if the Oilers wanted to see Smid sign more in the range of a Willie Mitchell ($3.5 million/season) or even a little lower given the falling salary cap.
A bigger issue might be whether the Oilers see Smid the same way – as a top-four defenceman on an eventual Stanley Cup contender. If they feel they need a different type of player long-term – perhaps, for example, somebody a little more adept with the puck – than a short-term deal or a trade could theoretically make sense. Given the weaknesses of the free agent market on defence, the difficulties in trading for such a player, and the amount of time necessary to groom a prospect for that role (something Smid, a ninth overall pick, bears witness to), in practice such a move would be problematic.
As Lowetide put it: sign the man.
Lowetide also comments on Friedman’s article.
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