Did Craig MacTavish move Ladislav Smid to Calgary just in time?

Something funny has happened since Craig MacTavish made the highly criticized trade that sent defenceman Ladislav Smid to the Calgary Flames in exchange for futures. Smid has imploded with the Flames, and that oh-so-weak Oilers defence seemingly hasn’t gotten any worse.

In fact, Smid’s departure appears to have marked bit of a turning point for the Oilers; after going 4-14-2 to start the year Edmonton won the first game post-Smid and has put together a still bad but much improved 11-14-3 record since.

As interesting as that won/lost record is, it’s nothing close to definitive. A lot goes into a win or a loss and often a team’s record with a given player on it is more luck than anything else. All it does is show that the sky hasn’t fallen in Edmonton post-Smid.

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But other metrics show a lot more than that.

Ladislav Smid in Calgary

There’s something interesting that happens to Flames defencemen when they get paired with Smid: They get worse. Calgary gets out-shot by a 3:2 margin when Smid is on the ice, and no matter who he is paired with the partner has been better off with almost anybody else.

The following chart shows the percentage of all attempted shots taken by Calgary with a given defence pair on the ice. The break-even mark is 50 percent, with higher being better and lower being worse:

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For pure puck-moving defencemen, like Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman, the addition of Smid to their pairing hurt. In Giordano’s case – and he’s the guy most worth paying attention to since a) we know he is an exceptional defenceman and b) he’s played the most with Smid – the difference was roughly 3.5 shots out of every hundred. In other words, Calgary went from being out-shot 52-48 with Giordano and X on the ice to being out-shot 56-44 with Giordano and Smid.

For guys who aren’t puck-movers, Smid was kryptonite. We’ll ignore T.J. Brodie, since the sample size is so small, but Chris Butler and Shane O’Brien both go from being bad without Smid to being outshot 2:1 when paired with Smid.

In short: in Calgary, Smid has been worse than useless when paired with anybody other than an exceptional puck-mover, and even in the latter pairing he has dragged down the results of that puck-mover.

Ladislav Smid in Edmonton

There is an idea floating around that Smid – a big, tough, physical defenceman who knew what do in his own zone – was carrying regular partner Jeff Petry and that with Smid gone Petry has been exposed as a bad defenceman.

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It isn’t a theory that harmonizes with available fact. Let’s start by looking at Petry’s numbers with various partners this year:

The idea that Petry’s a trainwreck just doesn’t work because almost everybody he partners with gets better in the process. Petry has played with five regular partners this year, and it’s not a fantastic list – he’s played with Andrew Ference against tough opposition or he’s played second-pair minutes with a rookie (Anton Belov, Martin Marincin) or the remains of Nick Schultz or Ladislav Smid, who we’re discovering has major holes in his game.

Unsurprisingly, Petry’s looked bad at times. More surprising is this:

  • Ference has been at his best with Petry.
  • The Oilers out-shot the opposition by a wide margin with rookie Belov on the ice with Petry
  • The Oilers out-shot the opposition by a wide margin with rookie Marincin on the ice with Petry

What about Smid’s Oilers numbers?

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We’re looking at pretty small sample sizes here, but Smid was a disaster when not paired with Petry and this season he’s been a disaster with anybody other than Petry, Giordano or Wideman.

What to Make of It All

Ladislav Smid has been one of my favourite players to watch for a long time. In interviews he comes across as funny, upbeat and a consummate professional. On the ice, whatever his faults, I’ve never had any reason to doubt he was giving it his all. Blocking shots, making hits, taking hits, whatever; Smid was a guy who always showed up.

So it brings me no pleasure to say this: It looks like something has gone very wrong with the player. With numbers like he’s posting in Calgary, he’ll be lucky if he can hang on as a third-pair defender, and only then if he’s playing with a competent puck-mover. Maybe this is all temporary, and he’ll rebound (I hope so; I’ve always liked the way he plays) but this is an awful stretch of hockey for a guy who has three seasons left at $3.5 million.

As for Craig MacTavish, he was harshly criticized for the Smid trade. But right now, it looks like he cleared a bunch of money, added some prospects and moved a player who wasn’t furthering the cause. If trends continue as they have since the trade, that will be a monumental victory for Edmonton’s general manager. At the very least, it may be wise to tone down the rhetoric condemning him for making the unpopular move.

Finally: It isn’t easy to say nice things about Jeff Petry to Oilers fans. He’s a favoured whipping boy and he probably always will be. But it’s funny how good his partners always seem to look. First, it was Smid. Then it was Anton Belov – whose play fell off at right around the same time he got bumped to the third pairing. Now it’s Martin Marincin, a second-year professional in North America who miraculously seems to be handling second pairing minutes in his first dozen games in the majors. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to ask whether Petry has something to do with that.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Smid has been playing on the right hand side. Something he has never done as a pro. He will get better as time goes on, or if he moves back to the left side. But he also plays for the Flames. Although the Flames are better than the Oilers…they are still awful.

  • Mulli35

    Like you JW I loved Ladi the person and loved his heart but I for one don’t miss his once a game boarding penalty and his fire it out off the glass first pass. I know we need toughness so it seems backwards to trade it away but Ladi was SO bad with the puck I think this ends up looking like a smart trade down the road.

  • Toro

    Good read , I for one was against the Smid trade, he was one of the few Oilers who seemed to care about this team , I still think it’s too early to pick a winner in this trade and with Smids bad numbers in Calgary you could argue that it was the right time to make the trade but with Smid being under 30 I don’t see his game slipping this early in his career and I fully expect him to bounce back at some point. As far as Petry goes he does seem to be the whipping boy right now and when I watch him play I see him making a lot of defensive mistakes , I truly don’t mind him as a player but maybe now might be the time to trade him while he might have some decent trade value and use him in a package to aquire a top Dman that we need.

  • Just imagine if Petry was able to play with a solid #1 or #3 D man. I think we would see a fully competent and capable player. The problem is that the Oilers don’t have anybody who qualifies as a solid #1 or #3 D man. Therein lies a massive problem.

  • CaptainLander

    Petry reminds me of Tom Poti, Poti was a whipping boy for a while before being traded (along with Rem Murray)for Mike York. Not sure the Oil won that trade. Poti had a pretty decent career.

  • S cottV

    The numbers are probably skewed by his general use as a shut down kind of guy. When on your heels vs pressing opposition who need a goal, you tend to use Smid. When you need a goal and are pressing forward vs a team that is protecting a lead, you tend not to use him.

    Also – would his style of play be a factor?

    Tends to cheat to a defensive position. Tends to cheat back into the net area, as opposed to pushing threats away from the net.

    A bigger “stay at home” d man, tends to stay closer to the net, inviting more outside shots and then relies more on subsequent control of the area around the net.

  • Pizzy

    Ladislav Smid is still better than half the Oilers defense and was one of the only few Oilers who seemed to give a crap. You use these “Questionable” advanced stats to prove your point and just rip a guy. No class Willis! No class!

    • I’m not sure you know what ripping a guy is. I thought my personal opinion of Smid was obvious.

      But what I’m doing is looking at the data, and the data is telling me that despite my fondness for the player something has gone sideways here. The scoring chance data I’ve collected, by the way, shows much the same.

  • We should have a like or trash button for the articles. If that was the case, I would LOVE this article. Great article. Great info. Great argument. Maybe MacT is still as smart as we thought we was before he was hired on as GM.

  • Toro


    Someone in Oilers management did a good thing. Acknowledge it and build on it.

    I’m not a fan of Kevin Lowe. Anymore. He’s done more harm than good to this club but can the bandwagon hoppers give kudos where their due?

    Congrats Willis on a balanced, well put together argument.


  • Czar

    Long before Smid was traded I thought he had to go because you could not have both him and Ference on the roster at the same time, and Ference isn’t going anywhere unless he asks to be traded.

    So, Smid going was a forgone conclusion in my mind. My concern was what MacT got back in trade. Despite this implosion in Calgary, I beleive Smid had trade value when the deal was done, and that a real NHL player could have been acquired for Smid had MacT cast a wider net.

    So, am I allowed to still be critical of the return?

  • pkam

    Goes from one bad team to another, who knows maybe he’s still playing the swarm.

    Myself I would have liked to see Smid go to a good team that we could trade with.

    • pkam

      I hated Greg Chase as a Hitmen, now that he’s an Oilers prospect he’s dear to me.

      Edit: Still can’t believe he is a 7th round pick. Hope more 6th/7th round picks like him by MacT in the coming drafts.

  • Czar

    I’ve never been one for stats, but what a surprise these ones are. I also liked the heart and physical play that we could expect from Smid . I was pissed at Mac T for the trade, and couldn’t make any sense as to why, especially being as thin as our defence has been for far to long. Apologies to the GM. What looked to me as this move being a dark cloud, it appears there is a silver lining after all.

    Just as an aside—-Gagner is my whipping boy/goat.

    Great article Jonathon. Thanks for pointing out the not so obvious.

  • Zarny

    Good article, I don’t think any fan could dislike Smid as a person, if he would have been on a competitive team he would have been a 4-5 and would not of commanded a $3.5 mil salary.
    I also think being on this team and seeing nothing but losing would have to take its toll, unfortunately that is going to continue for him, I hope he gets traded to a contender at the deadline.
    When the trade was made the Oilers were already out of the playoff race so it may look like a good move in the future.
    This team is going to have a lot of cap space to spend.
    Petry has size and is a great skater and I think there is still a lot of upside with him.

  • NewfoundlandOil

    As much as I liked Smid as an Oiler, I had no problem with the trade for Brossoit and Horak. I think MacT acquired a potential starter in Brossoit and more prospect depth at G and C. Yep I think Brossoit>>Roy.
    I think there was probably a realization that Smid’s style of play was not going to work under Eakins and MacT and therefore the move.
    I think Calgary got he better/more developed player for now, but Edmonton got as decent return for Smid.

  • Neilio

    So you’re making conclusions based on a half seasons work on two of the worst, most chaotic teams in the league? He was a good defenceman before and he will be a good one again.
    Smid’s poor play with the Oilers this year coincides with Eakins’ failed Swarm system, BTW.

    Regarding the trade, take this for what its worth. I have it on good authority that Smid asked for a trade because the locker room had become unbearable. Eakins plays favorites heavily and it has divided the room. Eakins made no bones about Ference being Smid’s replacement, and the first time he actually spoke to Smid was when he told him he’d been traded.

  • Strange Tamer

    We do need some Smid type players on the roster, but as the numbers show, he is not a 3.5 million dollar player. Ever since Jason Smith and Steve Staios went out to pasture this team has longed for heart and soul defenseman, but we need ones that actually are good at defending.

    Liked the nastiness and compete, but Smid always looked a little deficient and one dimensional, now the stats are starting to bear this out. If he is making 1.5 million you keep him, but the extra cash can be used for something better.

    The return was also questionable, as at the time Smid was considered a real defenseman by most. Tambo really screwed this up as we could have got a decent ransom at the deadline last year for him, instead Tambo gave him an inflated contract, probably the last good reason to fire Tambo. Tambo could have easily got a first rounder plus in a deep draft. Maybe we could have had a Lazar or Mantha or Guathier for Smid instead of what we got.

    Horak is a nice AHLer who can fill in at the top level when injuries hit. The goalie will be the key though, if he pans out into at least an NHL backup MacT wins this deal, if not then it is just a salary dump to clean up the garbage from the previous GM and very poor asset management, but hardly MacT’s fault.

  • Concur

    What I find amusing is this is the last contract that Tambo negotiated and MacT trades it away. You can see the differences right there. If Lowe was making all the decisions then this wouldn’t have happened. Further evidence that both Tambo and MacT have the reins.

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      Why does Tambellini always get the blame with contracts? Just easier to blame the guy not here anymore I suppose.

      MacTavish was on that staff and was working with Tambellini at the time. Smid is right up MacTavish’s alley with the blocking of shots – which was odd that he traded the guy. Lowe was on staff and each contract is run by Katz. Also, from my understanding, RICKY OLCZYK is the most heavily involved in contract negotiations – he’s still on the staff.

  • Concur

    On another note, what I am curious about JW is what was/is the on ice save % with Smid for both Oilers and Flames? This to me would give a better understanding of Smids play as he is a defensive defenseman.

  • NewfoundlandOil

    Smid is no doutb a great guy, but for the past two years he was the worst puck mover we had back there – and with our horrendous d, that’s really saying something.
    When Smid had the puck on his stick, it was either a turnover (in our own zone or the neutral zone) or an icing the majority of the time. Plus he brings zero offense.
    He can use his body a bit, and wasn’t afraid to block shots, but it’s no surprise to me that he brings whoever he plays with down. He has zero puck skills.
    Not only that, but he’s signed to a long-term deal worth over $3 million per year.
    Trading Smid was a salary dump, plain and simple, and definately a smart move from MacT.

  • pkam

    I have never been a big fan of Smid and have no problem trading him. But I still think we should be able to get a bit more for him.

    I can’t stop thinking that the Sharks got 2 2nd round picks from the Pens for Douglas Murray last trade deadline. Honestly, even thought I am not a big fan of Smid, I’ll rather have him than Murray.

    The good news is Laurent Brossoit seems to be doing really good in ECHL. The bad news is he is not doing very good in AHL. It is too early to tell if he can develop into a NHL starting goalie. Let’s hope Bob Green is right, which he usually is.

  • RMGS

    Those who love MacT are loyal to no end. One way to read this analysis is as an ex post facto absolution of a poor trade by the Oilers. A 27-year-old bona fide NHL D is worth more than the marginal prospects gained.

    • Well, let’s tranlsate that second sentence into English: “One way to read this analysis is as an after the fact absolution of a poor trade by the Oilers.”

      In other words, you’re saying I’m letting him off the hook after the fact.

      That’s true, in a way – I was highly critical of the trade when it happened. But I’m not changing my mind out of some deep-seated sense of loyalty to Craig MacTavish; I’m changing my mind because the facts have changed. Petry has played with other partners and done better than he had with Smid; Smid has played with other partners and fallen off the rails.

      If Smid were excelling in Calgary, the earlier criticism would be justified. Instead he’s flat-lining, and if it continues that trade is going to keep looking pretty good for Craig MacTavish.

    • Zarny

      A better way to read this analysis is that all of those who were crying and complaining about the Smid trade were flat out wrong and basing their analysis on years gone by.

      Because it was clear to anyone who watched the games that Smid was playing like garbage.

  • Bishai in the Benches

    Extremely interesting and well written article. Although the data suggests Smid is struggling mightily this year, and you have proved that it is not dependant on line mates with either team, I tend to view the situation similar to dubnyk. I highly doubt smid has magically become a bad D man, much the same way dubnyk didn’t become an awful goalie. Neither of them are “good”, but they still both deserve jobs in the NHL. I attribute the comparison of numbers between smid and petry to playing style, a defensive defensemen will always have worse Corsi numbers than a puck mover. In addition, Smid has made it clear before that he prefers the left side, and feels uncomfortable on the right. He practically begged Kruger to keep him on the left in one episode of oil change.

    I tend to believe that NHL level players don’t magically become bad, non NHL players when they are young and in the prime of their career. Dubnyk mostly bounced back, and so will smid.