Regardless of the sport, most teams are generally as successful as the talent an organization is able to compile over time and ultimately put out on the field of play. Obviously, talent is a must but the need for those so-called "glue guys" still have their place in most successful programs. As far as the Edmonton Oilers recent history goes, when you refer to glue guys, leadership and all out warrior, only one name comes to mind...Jason Smith.
After failing to secure a regular role during his first five plus seasons in the National Hockey League, the former eighteenth overall selection of the New Jersey Devils, was shipped to the Edmonton Oilers during the 1998-99 season, courtesy of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Oilers gave up next to nothing, second and fourth round picks to be exact, in acquiring one of the greatest heart and soul leaders this storied franchise ever had.
Smith remained an Oiler until the end of the 2006-2007 season, serving as team captain from 2001-02, and while there was nothing special from a statistical standpoint that stood out about his game, what he brought to rink on a nightly basis, could never be measured in point totals.
The guy who was affectionately referred to by teammates and fans as "Gator", was renowned for playing through injuries and his unwillingness to come out of the lineup. Smith, who was a hard-hitting/shot blocking machine throughout much of his career and played with almost any injury one could imagine.
Be it a separated shoulder, a bad elbow, sprained knee or ankle, broken bones or the damage done by the numerous sticks and pucks to the face he received over his career. Never mind the fact that Smith was more than willing to drop the mitts whenever necessary, be it to spark the group or to defend a fallen teammate.
He was the cornerstone of an Oilers backend that was typically on the thin side of the equation, at least until the club's surprising run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. During his first five plus seasons in Oilers silks, the team lacked much in the way of high-end talent but still managed to creep into the playoffs in four of those six seasons.
Unfortunately for Edmonton, they faced the star studded Dallas Stars in each of those years and despite giving the Stars all they could handle, the Oilers could never get over that hump and into the second round. At least until 2006, when they went far deeper than the second round of the NHL playoffs.
Though Edmonton were able to acquire all-star defenceman Chris Pronger prior to the 2005-06 campaign, Kevin Lowe also managed to add the likes of Dick Tarnstrom and Jaroslav Spacek prior to the 2006 Trade Deadline. Oddly enough, despite having some heavy artillery on the backend, the captain struggled through much of the season to find his footing. However, that all changed down the stretch and into the club's lengthy post-season run.
Smith found himself playing alongside Pronger on Craig MacTavish's top pairing and the duo were simply outstanding throughout the playoffs. The pair managed to shutdown Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, with a little help from Dwayne Roloson, Mike Peca and company, in knocking off the Detroit Red Wings in the Edmonton's opening round upset.
They followed that up with another stellar showing against the Joe Thornton led San Jose Sharks and the up and coming Anaheim Ducks. Just like that the Edmonton Oilers found themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals, with much of the accolades rightly being heaped upon #44. That being said, Smith's return to form was crucial in allowing Pronger to take his game to a whole new level.
The veteran blueliner would only play one more season in an Edmonton Oilers uniform. After being an even or plus player for his entire tenure in the City of Champions, Smith posted an ugly -13 during his final season in Cooper and Blue. In his defence, the combination of Edmonton being downright awful in 2006-07 and Smith no longer being able to bring his "A" game to table, proved too much for him to overcome.
He went on to play two more seasons after leaving the Oilers organization, captaining the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007-08, but Smith will always be remembered as that warrior on Edmonton's blueline.
The Oilers organization saved what was a floundering career off the Toronto Maple Leafs scrap heap back in March of 2009. It was career changing moment for Jason Smith and one that ultimately produced one of the most beloved players in franchise history.
Oilers History Page