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.

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:

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.

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?

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

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

    I really don’t find these stats that significant either. Smid has been paired with Giordano the majority of time in Calgary. When he’s not, small sample size, it’s only a different of -3.6%. Not even worth noting imo.

    • Time Travelling Sean

      Also to add to that, I don’t take stock in stats from someone who isn’t watching the games. Stats based on analyzing video footage by a competent viewer is one thing – you watch the game and by watching the game something triggered the viewer to analyze a specific area of the game. Huge difference.

      Simply taking stats from a stats page off a website doesn’t weigh heavily in favour of making a proper conclusion on whether or not it’s true. Is Smid really struggling in Calgary or is there other areas that may contribute to these stats (even the stats aren’t that significant).

      We need someone who regularly watches and analyzes the Flames to weigh in. This article needs to be posted at Flames Nation.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    From EDM to CGY maybe all this losing is wearing him thin. It must be hard to be upbeat and confident when you’ve been in a losing organization and a losing culture for so long.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    The one issue I see with this article is the omission of quality of competition tracking. I haven’t watched much of Smid in Calgary but, at least to the best of my recollection, he was always used primarily in the main defensive shut down pairing.

    I think this data could just as easily suggest which players were more or less equipped to tackle the “heavy lifting” playing against other teams’ best players. As Smid was primarily used against top lines, players on the ice without him could arguably simply be playing against lower end players.

    Aside from that, still interesting to see the differential of players playing with, or without Smid.

    • pkam

      The fact is O’Brien is worse with Smid than with someone else.

      Do you mean Bob Hartley only used Shane O’Brien against tough competition when he was paired up with Smid?

      • Bishai in the Benches

        As I said, I haven’t watched how Smid has been used in Calgary. Was merely commenting based on personal observations.

        I certainly won’t argue Smid shortcomings.. he has never been a strong puck handler, has limited offensive abilities, and these would play a large part in the numbers listed. My point is that, at least in Edmonton, he routinely saw stronger competition on average than the other d-men.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    You know the interesting thing is the radio interview done where Lowe states he is involved in all hockey transactions.

    It doesn’t matter who is GM. The man at the top controls and drives the ship. If the ship is lost at sea (which seems to be the case when you look at the team standings in the league – last place over Lowe entire management career) it’s is time to change the captain.

    The thing is, it is statistically impossible over his time as GM and President to do any worse, which means, any one without any hockey experience could do as well, and statistically better than Lowe. This, of course, does not say that person is any good, but what is does say is Lowe is really really bad.

  • Oilers4Ever

    Petry is dust…JW what is with your weird love of this guy? Must be your 3rd of 4th article with undertones of “Petryism”.

    Who knows, maybe I am wrong. Lets watch tonight’s game with a little extra scrutiny and dissect Petry’s game. We will reconvene here tomorrow and see if he is as good as you think or as bad as I think.

    Same bat time….same bat channel

  • camdog

    “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

    I personally thought all of the Oilers played bad when the organisation played the “SWARM”? As to the Flames I thought their entire team struggled after Burke’s speach about not liking the team. In both cases all of the players on both teams suffered by incompetant managment/coaching.

  • Burnward

    @JonathanWillis

    Sometimes Jonny I don’t know where you cook up these half baked ideas. Did you consider the fact that Smid got traded to a god awful team with possibly worst complete team defense than the Oilers posess. C’mon Jonny I know it must be hard to come up with new and insightful stories but geez put this one to bed.

  • Burnward

    I think this is one of those scenarios where we have to be careful.

    The way that Smid plays…keep the guy to the outside, force shots from there, don’t let them into the middle…lends itself to added shot attempts against.

    Based solely on the numbers he would appear to be a terrible defensive liability.

    But to the eye, anyone telling me Petry plays better defense than Smid is on crack.

    The answer is probably somewhere in the middle though.

  • Sorensenator

    Petry is a good skater with decent puck moving ability but seems to be missing a chromosome half the time on the ice. He costs the Oilers one goal almost every game because he makes poor decisions. Willis, your lost.

  • Reading these comments condemning various Oilers for being the cause of their lack of success shames our city and the status as true sports fans. I as tired of losing as the next guy but I refuse to resort to this type of name calling. I believe the Oilers are a young team still learning how to win and as a group are lacking some yet to be acquired key ingredients. Until they get there, we as fans should be offering encouragement and support.

  • camdog

    For what it’s worth I talked with a coworker today and he said that yesterday on the Calgary talk shows they were all pumping up Smids game, saying that they loved it. Sort of ironic that the Edmonton media are saying he is struggling and the Calgary media are saying the opposite on the very same day…

  • CMG30

    This is the most ridiculous article you have ever written Willis and you have come up with some bad ones.
    You can take your stats and bend them whichever way you want but the bottom line is it was not a good trade.
    I think someone should come up with some stats on how bad your articles are on days ending with a Y.

    • Chainsawz

      While I won’t say it was the most ridiculous, I think there might be other underlying stats here that are being ignored however. Are the shot attempts excluding special teams? That’ll swing the numbers one way or the other. How about zone starts and quality of competition and teammates? I’m lazy so no way I’m digging that up. How about quality of shots? Historical numbers – is he regressing or maybe he has always been put in situations where he will bleed shots while getting near 0 offensive zone starts and PP time (for good reason though).

      There is more than just shot attempts that define Smid as a player.

  • Andy7190

    Smid is fine. He hasn’t imploded. I watch a ton of Flames games, and Smid is about what was expected, someone who keeps it simple, blocks shots and can play some minutes. He’s alright.

    Flames have more problems defensively than Smid, for instance (this should be familiar to Oiler fans) the smurf-like forward crew gets pushed around to much in both ends. This is probably the real reason Feaster was fired. Too small.

    I’d rather have Smid than not have Smid, put it that way. The Oilers moved him because the weren’t gonna use him going forward. Doesn’t mean he isn’t useful to the Flames.

  • I think Corsi and other advanced stats are a very good way of evaluating players. I also think that Smid has not been that good in Calgary, although I don’t think he has been terrible either. But… you need to combine these stats with the knowledge of actually watching the damn game, you can’t judge a player solely by looking at a website with stats.

    Solely watching a player does not work either, the two must be combined. Things go unnoticed when only one way of judging a player is used.

  • You state your charts show the percentage of all attempted shots taken by team with a given defence pair on the ice.

    That is certainly not enough of a statistic to draw the wide ranging conclusions you have made.

    In fact it’s silly and misleading. Either that or you don’t have a clue about how to evaluate a defenceman.

    Cactus