Thursday, June 30, 2011

On Ladislav Smid and His New Contract

Ladislav Smid came to the Oilers in the summer of 2006 as a piece of the deal that sent Chris Pronger to the Anaheim Ducks after his infamous trade request only days removed from Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Selected 9th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Smid was a highly regarded prospect in his draft year, ranked fourth among European skaters and first among international defensemen by NHL central scouting. While Smid was never expected to replace Pronger on the back end, his development into a dependable NHL defenseman has taken longer than anticipated. Today however, the Oilers re-signed Smid to a new two year deal that will certainly pay him like one.

After turning pro, Smid began his career as more of a puck moving defenseman who would jump up in the rush and try to generate offense. In his first season in the AHL with the Portland Pirates Smid scored 3-25-28, but since entering the NHL with the Oilers, the offensive production has never appeared. In 331 games over 5 seasons in the NHL Smid has only scored 4 goals and 40 assists. However, he has demonstrated a willingness to adapt and change his style of play. Over the past few seasons Smid has transformed his game into that of a shutdown defenseman, something that is certainly needed on an Oilers roster that is heavy on puck-movers on the blue line. Smid has developed into a tough stay-at-home defenseman who isn't afraid to challenge opponents, play hard in the corners and in front of the net, and is fairly sound positionally. More importantly, even with 5 years experience Smid is still only 25 years old and believes he can still continue to improve his game. He has stated that his goal is to become a top-four defenseman for the Oilers who can be trusted to play at crucial moments in games and against the opposition's top players, and if he continues on this development curve he should be able to get there.

But is Smid worth the $2.25M contract he signed today? This figure represents a significant raise over the $1.4M he was paid last year. Smid played a ton for the Oilers last season, averaging over 20 minutes a night, largely due to injury, factoring in on both the penalty kill and the powerplay and finished the year at -10 on the 30th place team. Smid had a slow start to the season after major neck surgery over the summer and suffering a mild concussion early, and found himself sitting at -8 by Christmas. However, once Smid got back into the pace of the game, he improved significantly and was only -2 over the last 4 months of the season, when his minutes were increasing and the Oilers were losing a lot of games. So if Smid can start the season where he left off in 2010-2011, he should be able to justify his bump in pay. For comparisons sake, the Red Wings just re-signed Jonathan Ericsson to a 3 year deal at $3.25M annually after earning only $900K last season. Like Smid, Ericsson plays a shutdown game and doesn't provide much offensively, his career high is the 15 points he scored this past year. He plays less minutes a night compared to Smid and is not nearly as physical. Smid also doesn't have the supporting cast that Ericsson has to help out with his +/- statistic. So perhaps the Oilers are actually coming in at the right price.

One major area of concern with Smid however is his health. He has had 2 concussions and a major neck injury in the last 2 seasons. Although he did appear in 74 games last year, the most he's played since his rookie season. Smid, like many young NHL defenseman, is also still battling consistency and needs to maintain his physical play nightly. He likes to play with an edge to his game and will need to keep it that way if he's going to force his way into the Oilers top two pairings. Of course the offense is something that may never come with Smid's game, but keeping the puck out of his own net should still be the priority over putting pucks in the other.

One area that definitely isn't a concern for the Oilers with Smid is his commitment. Smid has stated many times that he wants to play in Edmonton, which is a nice change at a time when the Oilers are having difficulty attracting players. Today in an interview with 630 CHED's Dan Tencer he had this to say:

"Hopefully this season, like I said, is going to be better. I really believe in this team, and that's why I wanted to re-sign here so bad. I was so happy we did. I'm really, really looking forward to this season."

It is that type of optimism and enthusiasm that is needed in the young Oilers dressing room. Smid is motivated and definitely has a "team first" mentality. Hopefully his attitude is one that is contagious. Last season at the trade deadline the Predators and Blackhawks were both inquiring about his availability, and Smid said he was "devastated" to hear about the rumors. In the end the Oilers opted to hang on to Smid and I feel that decision is one that management won't regret.

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