CALGARY – The timing couldn’t have been worse for Ladislav Smid to be traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Calgary Flames.
No, not because he’s going from an organization that’s been rebuilding for several years to one that has just begun the process. It’s bad timing because his first time on the ice with Calgary comes after an off-day and with Flames coach Bob Hartley, that means an intensive practice, capped off by a gruelling test of the player’s conditioning and endurance called mountain climbers.
“It was a really hard practice,” said the 27-year-old defenceman, still catching his breath. “I guess that’s how it is after a day off. It had a good pace but after a day off and a day flying, it was good to be back on the ice.”
Acquired Friday night, Smid was drafted by Anaheim ninth overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, most famous for Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin going one-two. After playing one full season in the AHL, Smid’s NHL career began Oct. 7, 2006—just over three months after the Oilers’ 3-1 Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup final.
Edmonton never made the playoffs during Smid’s time in Edmonton, a stay spanning 474 games. Now, as a result of just the second trade ever made between the provincial rivals, he finds himself on the other end of the Battle of Alberta.
“For my first seven years to not have one playoff game, I was really, really frustrated with that,” said Smid. “Everybody plays hockey for one reason, especially in the NHL, and that’s winning the Stanley Cup and I’ve got to be honest, it sucks not to be there. Hopefully with this team and this bunch of guys, we can make it.”
The Flames (6-9-2) are 13th in the Western Conference, four points ahead of the Oilers (4-12-2), who are last. Edmonton is tied for second-last overall, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres.
“It was frustrating this year and the last few years to be honest with you,” Smid said. “Everyone was talking about the rebuild but it seemed like every year, we were in last spot right off the bat and it was kind of frustrating at the end.”
Making the post-season this season is going to be an awfully difficult task given how good the Western Conference has been. Going into Sunday’s games, the Flames are already 10 points out of the final playoff spot. But whether it’s this season or in the near future, Smid likes the Flames hard-working style of play and feels it’s a perfect fit for him.
“I’ve seen Calgary play this year and that’s their identity, they work hard, they never quit, and that’s what I like and I’m really excited to be part of the Flames now,” said Smid, who in April signed a four-year, $14-million extension that has him under contract through 2016-17.
Interestingly, one of the first guys Smid talked to after the trade was his former long-time teammate Steve Staios, who was the central figure involved four years ago in the only other deal consummated between the Flames and Oilers.
“He said don’t think about it too much, just embrace it. It’s good to be in a different city, it’s a fresh new start and he also told me I’m going to really enjoy it here, it’s a great city and the fans are amazing,” Smid said.
Hartley says he hasn’t yet determined who Smid’s defence partner will be. Calgary is currently without its defensive stalwart and captain Mark Giordano, out until mid-to-late December with a broken ankle.
“Where will he fit? Right now, it’s too early to tell,” said Hartley. “We got him for his defensive work and for his toughness but at the same time, is he going to be a third or fourth, or a fifth or sixth? I don’t know. We’ll let him get used to us, we’ll get used to him.”
In Giordano’s absence, Chris Butler has been playing with TJ Brodie with the tandem of Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell rounding out the Flames top four on the blue-line.
“He’s an in-your-face defenceman, very reliable defensively, blocks shots, not fun to play against, he’s going to finish his hits, he’s a big-sized defenceman,” said Hartley. “If you look at the many moves that we’ve made since the summer, it’s to get this team bigger and faster so I really like our move.”
Since 2011-12, Smid ranks fifth in the NHL in blocked shots. This season, he led the Oilers with 52 hits. The entire Flames’ defence corps has combined for 99.
“Here’s a guy that is not afraid to sacrifice his body for the best of the team. He’s been like this his whole career. You know exactly what you’re going to get from him,” Hartley said.
Also coming to Calgary in the trade was minor league goaltender Olivier Roy. Heading to Edmonton were minor league prospects Roman Horak, a forward, and goaltender Laurent Brossoit.
The Flames return to action Tuesday night versus the San Jose Sharks. After hosting Dallas on Thursday, the three-game homestand wraps up Saturday with Smid getting a chance to face his former team.
“When I first broke into the league, the battle of Alberta was really heated, a lot of fighting and stuff like that,” said Smid, who in 2009 dropped the gloves with Giordano. “It’s much calmer now. It’s more about the hockey but it’s still a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to Saturday, it’s going to be an interesting match for me.”