Photo credit:Marko Ditkun / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
52 Days Until The Season Begins
By Zach Laing6 months ago
Throughout the summer and into the fall, we’ll be counting down the days until the Edmonton Oilers begin their 2023-24 season with a daily trip down memory lane.
How could anyone forget the Jerred Smithson era?
An April 4, 2013 article in the Edmonton Journal details the club’s trade deadline from the day prior. The only move the Oilers made was to acquire Jerred Smithson.
As far as bizarre Edmonton Oilers trades, there’s few more puzzling than that of the 2013 trade deadline day acquisition of Jerred Smithson.
The 2012-13 season was an odd one. It started in late January well behind schedule due to the NHL lockout and come April, the Oilers were in a decent position. They had a 15-13-7 record and their 37 points had them one behind the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators, who each sat at the playoff cut line in the Western Conference.
Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin were rock solid for the team in net that year, and Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov were all producing points.
The Oilers had two ways to go: one was to sell off pending UFA’s like Ladislav Smid, Ryan Whitney, Ryan Jones, Mark Fistric or even Khabibulin. The other would’ve been to buy at the deadline and make additions in hopes of pushing for a playoff spot. The third would’ve been to just stand pat and not make a single trade.
What ended up being the decision was some blend of the second and third option. They effectively stood pat by making three, incredibly minor moves that did nothing for the team. On March 29th, GM Steve Tambellini traded Tobias Reider for AHL tough guy Kale Kessy who never sniffed the NHL. Then, a day before the April 3rd deadline, he made another AHL swap moving Dane Byers to the Washington Capitals for Garrett Stafford.
Then, the pièce de résistance: acquiring a 34-year-old center who played 10 minutes a night and carried a putrid 37.5 percent goal share percentage at 5×5.
Enter Jarred Smithson.
The move was as confounding then as it is now. Of all the deals the Oilers could’ve made, why did they feel like this was the spot to address?
“Yes there were a lot of different scenarios where I could have moved people for mid-round picks, maybe a little higher in a couple of other circumstances,” Tambellini told the Edmonton Journal after the deadline passed. “But that wasn’t my goal coming into this trade deadline.
“It was to find some way to not take away from the depth of our dressing room, or the people that we’ve asked to compete so hard to get to this spot, was to show them that we trust this group, that they have a wonderful opportunity to get in the playoffs here.”
He went on to add that the Oilers acquired him for his faceoff prowess, which is fine and all given Smithson did win 57.4 percent of his draws in the 10 games he played with the Oilers.
Big names were moved on that deadline day. Jaromir Jagr was moved to the Boston Bruins two depth pieces and a conditional pick. Jarome Iginla was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins for two prospects who never panned out and a 1st round pick. Brendan Morrow was also sent to Pittsburgh while Marion Gaborik was sent to Columbus and Jason Pominville to Minnesota in the two biggest deals of the day.
Goaltender Ben Bishop could’ve been an Oiler that day too, with Tambellini reportedly having offered forward Ryan Jones and a second-round pick. Bishop, as we know, went to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick.
While Tambellini and his staff had the utmost confidence in the infantile roster the Oilers had — the fourth youngest in the league that year — the truth of the matter is that the idea of this team being able to do any serious damage in the playoffs was near laughable. They faced a tough schedule ahead with nine of the final 13 games being up against teams in a playoff spot and a final week where they would play five games in seven days against the top-four teams in the west.
And no disrespect to the talents and successes the Oilers roster had, but they were not in a position to be able to compete with the big boys yet. The remainder of the year would show that.
While a one-goal, five-point performance from Taylor Hall in an 8-2 win against the Calgary Flames on April 3rd would offer hope, the final 12 games would not. The Oilers went on a six-game losing streak after the deadline and went 3-9 in the final 12 games. The team clearly wanted the young players to play in big moments, and they were able to do just that.
Smithson would appear in 10 games down the stretch scoring one point — a goal in the final game of the year — and averaged 11:43 in ice time.
The Oilers would land the seventh overall draft pick that year and drafted defenceman Darnell Nurse, who has turned into nothing but a top-pairing rearguard for the Oilers.
Still, even 10 years later, it’s confounding to look back at this time in Oilers history and think about what could’ve been. It’s hard to imagine that any one trade would’ve pushed the Oilers into a playoff position as much as it is hard to imagine the team making noise in the dance.
But the truth of it all is that Oilers fans in 2013 were looking for something to hold onto. There was palpable excitement surrounding this young group of players with the hope that they would, finally, be able to get this organization somewhere. Hall ended up ninth in league scoring that year with 50 points. A rookie Yakupov scored 41 points of his own, while Gagner and Eberle found themselves among the top 50 scorers.
Instead, acquiring Smithson and pretending this team was ready to make some noise on their own was foolish, and did nothing but further pile onto the troublesome experiences for fans.
And on top of it all, it cost Steve Tambellini his job.
On April 15th, after a post-deadline 0-5 run, Kevin Lowe got in front of the media in Edmonton, talked about two tiers of fans, and named Craig MacTavish as the new decision-maker.
The rest, well, it’s history.
Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at email@example.com.
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