Counterpoint: Smithson signing shows lack of institutional creativity

Cam Charron
November 06 2013 04:15PM

Well, it appears the Toronto Maple Leafs have "fixed" their hole at centre, luring mercenary Jerred Smithson out of retirement limbo and onto his fourth National Hockey League club in the last three seasons.

No, that's not a typo, and no, Smithson is exactly the wrong kind of player you want to look at when you're thinking about adding an experienced centreman. Smithson hasn't played above 12 minutes a game since the 2010-2011 season, and over the last two seasons has been hockey's worst offensive producer among forwards by an absolute longshot.

Obviously, "offence" isn't what the team needs at this point, but I'd have to think that there are players available that may not have the work experience resumé of Smithson, but a little bit more potential to be more than a stop-gap. The issue I have with this move is not related to the fact that on August 3rd, I brought up Smithson's name when Travis Yost asked who might be the NHL's worst regular player, it's that it's wildly uncreative and expected and symbolic of a team that favours tradition over creativity or substance. Look at Justin Bourne's reaction to that tweet. "In the NHL based off of pure perception." 

It's stuff like this:

For a while, it looked like the NHL was going to force retirement on Smithson. The general manager that acquired Smithson at last year's trading deadline was fired 12 days later, before he could make another move. It's not like the acquisition of Smithson was what placed the Oilers in or out of the postseason, but it's just remarkable how poor his numbers were.

I don't know if it's fair to judge Smithson on defence, because he's played for some remarkably bad teams in the last year, but I think it is fair to point out that he at or near the bottom of the league in almost every conceivable offensive category. This isn't like Jay McClement, a player that pots relatively few points because he's on the fourth line.

No. Even Jay McClement was a respectable 225th in points per 60 minutes among forwards between 2011 and 2013. He was around the level of Brooks Laich, Zack Smith, Brandon Sutter and Alex Burmistrov. No stars, but remarkably useful players.

Smithson, though? 272nd out of 272 forwards with at least 1000 minutes played, just below Darroll Powe and Eric Belanger.

Now, there's a long history of some reclamation projects turning back into NHL players over recent years. Mike Santorelli is a good example from this season, as is T.J. Galiardi. Both players are settling into their new organizations well after wandering the desert. Smithson, though, is 34 years old and has a career high 39 points. In junior. As an overage player. His NHL career high is 16 points, back in 2008.

Sure, Smithson could be a piece if all you wanted was a fourth line that didn't play, but a few specialists instead. Smithson can take the odd draw, kill penalties effectively and is probably a good guy in the room. He'll do all the things that coaches love, but unfortunately, it's the thing that the coaches hate, like taking risks, skating without support, and hogging the puck, that lead to goals and winning at this level.

Simply put, the odds that Smithson's defensive game is valuable enough to make up for the fact that he's the worst offensive forward in the NHL is pretty slim. The odds that Smithson becomes a plus offensive player in the short time he'll be with the team is very slim. It's just a missed opportunity. With David Bolland out of the lineup, the team needed to replace offence as well as defence. Is this the move? Is this the centreman that the Leafs have acquired for the next 6+ games while Tyler Bozak remains out of the lineup?

It just seems lazy and easy. It's the fourth grader pulling out the baking soda and vinegar volcano for the third straight season at the science fair because he hasn't earned a failing grade yet. It's wearing a fedora as a Halloween costume and making spaghetti for dinner. There's nothing inspired or clever about the move, no creative way to save cap space, no bringing in a young player we had scouted for the 2008 Draft but he went a few picks before our turn. It's just a move with no upside, and no reasonable chance of being surprised by an added injection of offence, or miraculously stumbling on a player that can fill in as a third liner for the remainder of the year and be "the next Jerred Smithson, only circa 2006".

Seriously, why not claim Brett Sutter? Literally, the worst case scenario is that he turns out to be as good as Jerred Smithson.

I'm not writing this because I have something personal against Smithson or because I'm determined that every move the Leafs make is awful. I've written about Smithson in the past, and followed the coverage and snark as Smithson went to Edmonton last deadline. Oiler blogger Benjamin Massey at the time said the deal "isn't the nadir, obviously, but it's still one for the Scrapbook of Tambicakes Incompetence."

Photo Courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 Pension Plan Puppets
November 06 2013, 04:21PM
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Why can't you be positive about what this move means about the Leafs' organizational depth at centre?

The cupboards are super stocked no?

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#2 Chemmy
November 06 2013, 04:25PM
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Cham Chimmons does it again.

Have you even watched him play in the NHL this year? Guy is gritty, his teammates love him, goes to the dirty areas, has leadership.

That's exactly what this club needs.

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#3 Kent Wilson
November 06 2013, 04:27PM
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Pfft. You just hate the Leafs. And good, honest players. etc.

You make me wretch!

Ps - I hope all of the comments are like this.

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#4 Steve Dangle
November 06 2013, 04:33PM
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Chemmy wrote:

Cham Chimmons does it again.

Have you even watched him play in the NHL this year? Guy is gritty, his teammates love him, goes to the dirty areas, has leadership.

That's exactly what this club needs.

I was ready to jump off a bridge until I read the username.

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#5 whichonespink
November 06 2013, 04:34PM
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Chemmy wrote:

Cham Chimmons does it again.

Have you even watched him play in the NHL this year? Guy is gritty, his teammates love him, goes to the dirty areas, has leadership.

That's exactly what this club needs.

Have you seen him play in the NHL this year? If you did, it's a good trick, since he hasn't played an NHL game yet this year. How did you see him go the dirty areas, or see his leadership? He has played 7 games for the Marlies, that's it. This writer is correct, this is an uninspiring move.

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#6 whichonespink
November 06 2013, 04:40PM
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Why did they send Smith down? Don't we have as many C's at supper than we did at breakfast? And why didn't they do this on Sun? He would have at least been able to get a weeks worth of practice in, now he'll get one? Two? This is a pitiful move, we still only have 3 C on the roster and 2 of them can't score. Why not just put Ashton at Centre?

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#7 bleafer
November 06 2013, 05:14PM
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Shouldve signed Arnott before he retired For srs guys

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#8 Matt
November 06 2013, 05:51PM
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I think jerred smithson is code for "Fredrick Sjostrom"

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#9 whichonespink
November 06 2013, 05:57PM
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Matt wrote:

I think jerred smithson is code for "Fredrick Sjostrom"

Funny and true!

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#10 Uller
November 06 2013, 06:16PM
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Hasn't played 12 mins a game in how long!?! This guy will never hack it on a 4 min a night line. Ever. Not to mention he can't score a ppg on it. Come on Nonis, in Toronto we only accept allstars playing on our 4th... until you do that, in which we will tear a strip off you for under using them.

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#12 Uller
November 06 2013, 07:22PM
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@Cam Charron

The upside is not losing anything, we pick up a 4th liner, move Mclement to the third, slot in JVR and re-asses after the weekend. Pretty much a perfect counter of a knee jerk reaction. It's simplicity makes it a good move.

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#13 Gooby
November 06 2013, 07:42PM
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Ugh what garbage. Cam disagrees with a leaf managment move, WHO ELSE IS SURPRISED.

Like seriously, he's going to play sheltered minutes in a fourth line role, then get sent right back down when Bozak returns. Perfect for the position he's in, and better defensively (which is all they need out of him) then a pro- AHLer like Sutter. Not to mention he'll be good in the locker room and probably knows a few guys from the Marlies. But we're all sure YOU would have gotten a better player in a more creative way Cammy...

The sad part is that this would be a decent site if we didn't have all the negative for the sake of negative crap on here. They needed a plug, they got one, end of story.

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#14 leafer2013
November 06 2013, 08:05PM
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Ha ha Cham is brilliant. Just claim Sutter of waiver and that fixes all the leafs problems. Yes how novel a move that would save the leaf season. Gosh, if Reimer or Bernier is injured will you write an article how the leafs lacks creativity when they bring up McIntyre?

I'm not sure what the point of this article is. The leafs could handle one center going down but Bolland and Bozak is difficult for the leafs to deal with as it would be with most franchises to deal with losing their top two centers. The difference between Suter and Smithson is not worth the discussion. And I'm not ready to drop draft picks and prospects for a someone to fill in at this point.

But one con for Suter is that each NHL team can have 50 players under contract. And the leafs are nearly at 50 (48 by my count). Sure they could claim Sutter who is about equal to Smithson and close to the 50 limit. But this further limits any additional roster moves for a bit player. This is the kind of insight that Healy on HNIC never mentions when he criticizes the leafs just to make his position appear stronger.

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#15 Back in Black
November 06 2013, 10:18PM
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Smithson sucks, but it doesn't matter, because he's only going to play in a fourth line role.

Orr sucks, but it doesn't matter, because he's only going to play in a fourth line role.

Maclaren sucks, but it doesn't matter, because he's only going to play in a fourth line role.

Ashton's got one career NHL point, but it doesn't matter, because he's only going to play in a fourth line role.

McClement's only effective as a penalty killing specialist, but it doesn't matter, because he's only going to play in a fourth line role.

Man this team has a lot of fourth lines that don't matter.

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#16 Smithson
November 06 2013, 11:30PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Pfft. You just hate the Leafs. And good, honest players. etc.

You make me wretch!

Ps - I hope all of the comments are like this.

If that's a real picture of you, I'm pretty sure I've seen you on the Fedoras of OK Cupid tumblr.

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#17 leaferfan
November 07 2013, 12:02AM
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I would have liked to see a more balanced approach that discusses the pros and cons, risks and opportunities with Smithson, in place of this editorial that runs head long into the "leaf management is terrible" narrative. This reads Smithson sucks and the leaf management are do do heads because I think so and it lacks much in the way of analysis and data that you usually present to back your view.

At any rate, not your best work here, as this "4th grader" name calling of leaf management for some reason lands like the same type of sour grapes of Healy pining over "Reimer's glove hand" or Cox "leaf 1967" talking point.

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#19 Thanksgiving
November 07 2013, 12:39AM
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My hunch is that Nonis looked at one stat, and one stat only when choosing which center to sign: FO%

If Leafs management were looking for a youngish center with any sort of potential (you mentioned Brett Sutter), why not just keep Smith up? I think Smithson will basically be Steckel 2.0

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#20 jasken
November 07 2013, 07:01AM
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Nice read Cam

Let's look at the bright side of this he can aide in penalty kill and help players improve in the f/o% because he sure cant make them any worse.

The fact that you call him the worst forward in the league makes me want to see him succeed more. As you base your facts like most simply on look at his points per game his and his Corsi etc... He played well in Nashville and was a solid player the fact he averaged only what 13 pts a season is a problem for you he only averaged what 60 shots a season.

He's a veteran player who really cant hurt them any worse then they are. I mean seriously averaging 17 unforced turnovers a night, 37 shots a night, around 15-18 scoring chances when it should be under 10. If he is a center who can help them get back to fundamentals of hockey bring these numbers down and help the team improve it would be a good signing regardless of his p.p.g and corsi.

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#21 TheGroobster
November 07 2013, 07:22AM
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Hi Cam. I love your posts. However I had to stop reading when you when started talking about how many points Smithson has been putting up in the past few years.

It seems like you misread this pickup. However, if the Leafs start playing Smithson on the second line or hell even regularly on the third line, I will stand corrected. This looks like a move to pick up a 4th line center who can play on the PK. Nothing more.

So I think your argument about how many points he puts up is absolutely moot and a bit disappointing since I regularly enjoy your work.

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#22 Mikey
November 07 2013, 09:28AM
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Cam Charron wrote:

I dislike the management move because I have spent the last four months calling Smithson one of the worst regular players in the NHL. With Lennart Pettrell and Colton Gillies no longer in the league he effectively becomes THE worst.

This has nothing to do with Leaf management. I liked the moves for van Riemsdyk and Bolland and the Kessel extension. I think Clarkson is a good player. I think the team has made some awful decisions in the meantime, and choosing quite literally the safest player in the NHL who brings nothing but experience over somebody with some potential upside is a wasted opportunity.

No, Brett Sutter wasn't going to fix the Leafs problems. He probably isn't the best player available, but the fact is he has more upside than Smithson.

I don't think upside is the issue here, are you not aware of what a "role player" is?

My question is why have you been calling him the worst NHL regular, because your stats said so?

Have you ever actually watched Smithson play? Because he's exactly what we need.

Your childish articles however, are not.

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#23 Back in Black
November 07 2013, 09:45AM
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@Mikey

What need does Smithson fill again? If the Leafs have a shortage of players who can neither score nor be trusted to defend against reasonable opposition, it's not a need that I've noticed.

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#24 Francis Guilherme
November 07 2013, 10:42AM
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Gregg McKegg!

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#25 Mikey
November 07 2013, 10:54AM
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@Back in Black

Fourth line center, who plays well defensively, has NHL experience, and is in the system so he doesn't cost them a roster spot.

In a position where he's not expected to score, can play sheltered minutes and can be sent down easily when the other players return from injury. There's no need to make a bigger move at this point. That would be a major mistake and overreaction

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#26 Killawatt
November 07 2013, 12:07PM
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I got no problem with you calling out Nonis but all you offer up as an alternative is Brett Sutter?

Seems like you are the one holding baking soda in your hand.

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#27 Phrankie
November 07 2013, 12:46PM
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Mikey wrote:

Fourth line center, who plays well defensively, has NHL experience, and is in the system so he doesn't cost them a roster spot.

In a position where he's not expected to score, can play sheltered minutes and can be sent down easily when the other players return from injury. There's no need to make a bigger move at this point. That would be a major mistake and overreaction

He was with the Marlies on a pro tryout not taking up a roster spot. The minute he signed that deal he began taking up one of 50 roster spots.

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#28 Toaster
November 07 2013, 02:11PM
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The Brett Sutter suggestion is moot, he is signed for $600K (more than Trevor Smith), has ZERO points this season and is a -5. His FOP is 46.8%. NEXT

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#29 CamisSilly
November 07 2013, 02:37PM
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Brent Sutter, 54 NHL games, 5 points... And he got waived by Carolina.

What upside?

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#30 Back in Black
November 08 2013, 09:28AM
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@Mikey

They already had that guy, his name was Trevor Smith. There was no need to make even this move if you only thing you acquire is the worst player in the league.

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