Edmonton - September 3, 2013 - Outside of perhaps George Laraque, no other "out-of-market" player has ingrained himself more into the fabric of this community than defenceman Ladislav Smid.
The seven year vet has not only become a stalwart on the Edmonton Oilers backend over the last number of years but also one of the most visible and interactive guys within the city itself.
Be it setting aside time to take part in a number of charitable events around the city, many of which that have never been made public, or just talking hockey with Oilers crazed fans around town, Smid seems to understand what playing in a market like Edmonton is all about.
Giving back to the community is something not every athlete does and far too many need to be given that extra little "push" to do so. Not so with the Oilers #5.
Prior to last season's Trade Deadline, the former first round pick of the Anaheim Ducks was rewarded for his work and agreed to a four year extension to remain in Orange and Blue.
In typical Smid fashion, the rugged rearguard did the club a favour in accepting what was a reasonable deal for both parties, despite the lure of taking a run at some big money via free agency.
In my mind, he likely left somewhere in the neighbourhood of an additional $8-$10 million on the table and the Oilers are in far better financial shape for it. His intent was never to hit it out of the park during negotiations but rather to be compensated with a fair number and continue to part of the equation moving forward.
Smid has become a leader within the group and along with Ryan Jones, the pair of inherited the role of being those "in between guys", when it comes to dealing with both the kids and veterans on the team. You never hear anything but positives when it comes to his leadership abilities and be it from the media or the likes of former Oilers defenceman Jason Strudwick or outgoing captain Shawn Horcoff, many have hinted at the twenty-seven year old as a guy deserving of wearing a letter on his shoulder.
At this stage of his career, Smid is one of the senior statesmen on the club and one of a precious few that will play a key role in the coming 2013-14 campaign. After being force fed top pairing minutes with partner Jeff Petry during the abbreviated 2013 season, which was done so more out of necessity than anything else, it looks as though that will no longer be the case come October 1st.
With the addition of not only Andre Ference and possibly both Anton Belov and former Oiler Denis Grebeshkov into the mix, head coach Dallas Eakins should have absolutely no reason to put such a heavy workload onto the shoulders of the Petry-Smid duo. That said, you can bet on the Czech defender still playing a crucial role under Edmonton 's new bench boss.
Over the last three seasons, Smid has turned himself into a bona fide top four NHL defenceman. Some will argue that point but frankly, they would be incorrect. He has become one the league's premier shot blockers over the last two seasons and has become the Oilers go-to guy on both the penalty kill and in a shutdown role. Unfortunately for both him and the club, he has had little to no help along the way.
The addition of Ference will not only give the Oilers another defender, outside of Smid, that is willing to engage physically but also a guy who will help on the PK and more importantly, eat some minutes at even strength. On far too many nights, the coaching staff continually handed minutes to the quartet of Petry, Smid, Justin Schultz and Nick Schultz. With the addition of the aforementioned blueliners, the "defence by committee" idea might just work.
Two years ago, Smid played a huge role in helping Petry finally finding his way at the NHL level and in my opinion, should be asked to play a similar role with Justin Schultz in 2013-14. He is a perfect safety net for a guy like Schultz, which would allow the kid to go out and do what he does. No question the youngster has to improve his overall game, especially in his own end of the ice. That said, he is an offensively gifted player and has to be given the green light to use his skill set.
As last year progressed, it was painfully obvious that wasn't possible playing alongside Nick Schultz and that the duo of Petry and Smid were not capable of handling "true" top pairing minutes night in and night out. As it stands, there looks to be a rather easy solution. Slide Ference in with Petry and make them the "1A" pairing and use the duo of Justin Schultz with Smid in a "1B" role.
In order for the Edmonton Oilers to take a step forward in 2013-14 they will need to stop using players in situations they are ill suited for. Ladislav Smid has become a solid NHL defenceman but to this point in his career, nothing points to him being a legitimate top pairing D man. However, he has shown to be more than capable of excelling in a support role, while helping develop young talent along the Oilers backend. Seems like a perfect fit...for everyone involved.
2013-2014 Prediction: 2 G, 14 A, 16 Pts