When he arrived, he was just a kid. Hell, Ladislav Smid at 20 had a lot of chaos but you could see what he might become one day. A tall tree with very good footspeed, he was a willing learner and a hard worker and we suffered along with him. Early in his time as an Oiler, I gave a thumbail sketch of the young man as an Oiler.
I like Smid, have from the start. He isn’t quite the player I thought he’d be based on scouting reports but there are some things to like and he has a unique set of skills (although the offense isn’t there, he can carry the puck through the land mines, and he’s a finesse defender in that he thinks position first and reacts to the puck like a cat to a ball of wool but he also turns into a mean one when the whistle stops play. Go figure) that imply there’s more there than is hitting the scoresheet currently. I still think he’ll have a long, productive career.
The learning curve for Smid–partly because he didn’t have a lot of help–was a longer process than you’d want, and the struggles were made worse by the team’s overall play (about as bad as things can be, that was Smid’s early career with the Oilers. The club really couldn’t shelter him, there was no time).
- Craig MacTavish, fall 2008: “It hasn’t been a great camp for Laddie, he probably needed a better one. The bottom line for me this year is we have to play people right out of the gate who are going to help us win immediately. In years past there’s always been some latitude for young guys to play through some early-season mistakes while they gain the experience, but that’s not our mindset this year, we’ve got to win. We’re going to play the personnel who give us our best chance.”
He lost the starting job to Jason Strudwick that fall, but as with all things Smid worked hard and won the job back, eventually moving up the depth chart and becoming a player coaching staffs could count on. In 2009 October–barely a year after MacT had moved him off the starting 6, I wrote the following:
He arrived the same day the Oilers sent away the most complete defender in their history, his progress looked at times like you could track it by sundial, but Ladislav Smid has made it. By eye and by number #5 is a solid NHL defender. He’s physical, makes good decisions, can close a gap, has terrific speed and his headman passes are quality. The offense isn’t pouring nor should we expect it to. But the fact is that if Ladislav Smid runs in place for the next decade he’ll still be an extremely valuable player. Good for him. He’s earned it.
I’ve felt that way about Ladislav Smid since that day. The early days of his NHL career were difficult, but he didn’t ask for that, he took the challenge and did his best. He learned the back door play, he learned the physical game, he learned to be an NHL defenseman of some note.
Yesterday, Ladislav Smid was traded. The new coach wanted a more mobile group, Smid’s contract (which is reasonable) will be used elsewhere and he’ll play in the southern part of the province in his next phase. Ladislav Smid grew to a man in our town, he never gave less than his best and he blocked everything he could when it was in front of him. The highlight of his time here came in a two-season pairing with Jeff Petry, the two young men facing the world’s best because the team they played for had no better options.
And, for awhile, it was a time to shine. New days bring new ways and he’s on down the line today. Ladislav Smid is a man now, a tall tree who will be knocking the stuffing out of our guys beginning next week. I’ll swear at him, and scream ‘that was a trip!’ and will hope Edmonton can beat his Flames. I will not cheer against him though, it would be impossible.
Ladislav Smid is a good and decent man for all we hear, he played hard for the copper and blue, and I hope he finds a brighter day with his young bride.
I wish him well. All the best, Ladislav Smid. You played during this team’s darkest days, and you never quit, not one time. Calgary’s reward is a good man and a fine hockey player. It is surely our loss.