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Time to Say Good-Bye to an Old Friend?


Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports

In my family, there’s something of an inside joke at the expense of my poor mother-in-law.  She has developed something of a reputation.  If ever there’s a player that you want to see jettisoned from the Nashville Predators– simply have Jeanne purchase that poor soul’s personalized sweater.  Invariably, that individual will be gone from the Nashville Predators’ roster in a matter of months.  Chris Mason, Scott Nichol, Jason Arnott–all victims to the jersey curse.

When she won Jerred Smithson’s jersey at the 09/10 “Shirts Off Our Back” ceremony, we pondered what the implications of this win meant.  Would “The Baby-Faced Assassin” be exempt from the curse, since the jersey wasn’t actually purchased?  Or would we see number 25 moving on to a new home, like all of the others? When Smithson signed a new 2 year deal, preventing him from becoming an unrestricted free agent, it certainly seemed that she had found a loophole.

For the immediate future, Jerred Smithson seemed to be sticking around.  And why not?  While he’s not going to be asked to participate in the All-Star skills competition, he’s the sort of blue-collar foot soldier that has typified the Nashville Predators since their inception. An adept penalty killer, face-off man, and all around defensive specialist, he’s always been the ideal fourth line center.

Until this year.

I’m certainly not one to neglect the yeoman contributions that Jerred Smithson has made to the franchise over the past six seasons.  Signed coming out of the lockout as a depth forward, serving time in both Milwaukee and Nashville, he provided a surprising amount of grit and defensive stiffness, an effective counterbalance to high-flying offensive stars like Paul Kariya and JP Dumont(don’t laugh, times weren’t always so hard for good ol’ Jean-Pierre). Smithson has been a key contributor on a penalty kill unit that has routinely been in the top ten of the league, even when all other categories were in the bottom triad. I’d be remiss to ignore his role in all of that.

Fast forward to this season.

That penalty kill, long the banner of the Nashville Predators, has taken an uncharacteristic slide this season.  While the rank of 15 might seem respectable to some, it’s like little Sammy bringing home a C on his report card when his proud parents are accustomed to A’s.  Something doesn’t jibe.

While it would be unreasonable to blame such a plummet solely on Smithson, there is a key factor to note.  Smithson currently leads the Nashville Predators in minor penalties with 15.  When your primary contribution to your team is focused through the penalty kill, this is a bad statistic. His faceoff ability still leads the team, but that’s likely due to how bad the Predators are on the draw as a team, and his defensive-zone faceoff percentage–the important one for a player like Smitty–is WAY down.

In addition, I’m not a big fan of the hardcore statistical metrics like Corsi(comprised of goals/saves/missed shots over the course of 60 minutes–considered the de facto defensive metric) is a staggering -19.85 — worst among all forwards on the team.  With Legwand and Fisher doing most of the heavy lifting defensively, this is another damning indicator of Smithson’s decline.

When you consider that he’s played much of the season on a surprisingly offensive fourth line with Matt Halischuk and Craig Smith, the usual argument for such a poor Corsi rating for a fourth liner goes out the window– his line is producing about as well as any fourth line in the league.  No thanks to Mr. Smithson-with 1 goal on the season, on pace for…well, less than 2.

Compounding matters has been the emergence of Nick Spaling as the team’s all-around utility man.  You can slot him in on any line, and with a good deal more offensive ability than Smithson, he’s not going to kill any scoring momentum a line might have.  Spaling’s numbers are, as you might imagine, a good deal better than Jerred Smithson’s in every category, aside from faceoff percentage– but he’s second on the team there, and not that far behind.

Now, as the playoffs draw near, you can never have too much depth–so maybe waiving Smithson or tossing him for a seventh round pick would be counterproductive, but I would like to see him get a schedule of starts that’s akin to Brian McGrattan– a niche player with a time and place, maybe he plays if injuries build up– but he shouldn’t be in the lineup every night.

With last Saturday’s healthy scratch, we might just be seeing such an approach from Barry Trotz.

And maybe that’s the win-win scenario.  My mother-in-law keeps the still-relevant sweater of one of her much-loved underdogs…the Predators slot more effective players into their lineup.

Everyone’s happy.