Ladislav Smid Trade: Are the Edmonton Oilers Clueless or Clever?

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistNovember 9, 2013

Oct 14, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid (5) skates with the puck against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

At first glance, it’s a trade that makes no sense. The Edmonton Oilers—a famously weak defensive team—traded one of their few bona fide NHL rearguards in a deal that brought no immediate help to the team. Worse still, the beneficiary of the deal was hated rival Calgary.

So, what were they thinking? Was this just an example of a bad team making another bad decision?

One possibility would be that Ladislav Smid simply wasn’t a very good player.

There is little sign of that, however, the revolving door of Edmonton coaches the last five years all found time for Smid on the blue line, and while the player’s ice-time was down a little this year (he averaged just under 18:00 per game, split between even-strength and the penalty kill), he was still getting regular minutes. Smid was also heavily leaned on in the defensive zone, with showing he had the toughest shift starts of any defender on the team.

It’s also extremely difficult to believe that general manager Craig MacTavish was so wowed by the possible return that he simply had to pull the trigger on a trade.

Apr 12, 2013; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Roman Horak (51) during the warmup against the Phoenix Coyotes at the Scotiabank  Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Roman Horak, the young centre coming the other way, is a middling prospect. Goaltender Laurent Brossoit is an upgrade to Olivier Roy (who was dealt with Smid), but it’s an upgrade from “probably will never play in the NHL” to “possibly will play in the NHL years down the road.”

Why would a weak defensive team move a legitimate NHL defenceman for a marginal return?

Part of the answer is “cap space.” Smid took up $3.5 million against the cap; the players Edmonton took back in the deal cost nothing. The Oilers used some of that cap space immediately, shoring up their goaltending with the acquisition of free agent Ilya Bryzgalov:

The addition of Bryzgalov should allow Edmonton to bury backup Jason LaBarbera, meaning that the total cap cost of adding the Russian goaltender is somewhere under $1.0 million. According to MacTavish, there aren’t any plans to use the rest of the cap space the team just cleared:

The team could have found the space for Bryzgalov elsewhere. Why, then, did they move Smid?

The answer lies in the makeup of the defence.

Oct 26, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Andrew Ference (21) in action against the Phoenix Coyotes in the second period at Arena. The Coyotes defeated the Oiler 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

On the left side, the Oilers had four options prior to the Smid deal: Smid, team captain Andrew Ference, veteran Nick Schultz and experienced KHL rearguard Anton Belov.

Belov has arguably been the best of the lot and has a wider skillset, while Ference, Schultz and Smid are all veteran defensive defencemen that can slide into the second or third pairing on a good team.

Put another way: despite Edmonton’s defensive weakness, Smid’s particular skills made him somewhat redundant in the here-and-now.

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  Darnell Nurse poses for a portrait after being selected number seven overall in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jamie Squir
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The picture gets bleaker in the future. The Oilers are loaded with left-side defensive prospects, including a pair of highly touted ones in Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse.

Smid has three years left on his deal after this season, as does Ference; given the team’s apparent commitment to Belov, something had to give. That something was Smid, the poorest puck-mover of the three.

Edmonton needs top-end defencemen, and Smid wasn’t going to fill that gap; in both the short- and long-term, there was a good case for moving him. This was readily apparent at least as early as last summer. So, despite the weakness of the team’s defence overall, trading Smid is easily defensible.

What makes this a bad deal—one in a long line of bad deals for the Oilers—is the return.

Smid is still young at the age of 27 and signed to a reasonable long-term contract. Defencemen always seem to have value around the trade deadline (recall a worse player in Douglas Murray on a rental deal fetching two second-round draft picks from Pittsburgh), and if MacTavish is being honest about having no other trades in the works, there was no pressing reason for the Oilers to move Smid now.

The Oilers evaluated the situation and then decided to deal him to a division rival for marginal prospects. It’s not a franchise-devastating move, but getting 25 cents on the dollar for real NHL players is one way bad teams stay bad teams.


    Will Edmonton Oilers retain Todd McLellan as coach? It's not a sure thing after the meltdown of 2017-18

    Edmonton Oilers logo
    Edmonton Oilers

    Will Edmonton Oilers retain Todd McLellan as coach? It's not a sure thing after the meltdown of 2017-18

    Bruce McCurdy, Cult of Hockey
    via Edmonton Journal

    Ranking the Top 10 NHL Hockey Players of All Time

    NHL logo

    Ranking the Top 10 NHL Hockey Players of All Time

    David Kenyon
    via Bleacher Report

    Holtby on Grubauer: We Support Each Other

    NHL logo

    Holtby on Grubauer: We Support Each Other

    NBC Sports
    via NBC Sports

    Lured Out of Retirement, Fisher Chasing 1st Cup

    NHL logo

    Lured Out of Retirement, Fisher Chasing 1st Cup

    Sean Leahy
    via ProHockeyTalk