Gator didn't always win, but he always put up a good fight. via www.picapp.com
As one of the newest recruits to The Copper & Blue, I missed the initial picking of the post-dynasty favourites. But for a person like me, picking last isn't an issue. You see, I'm one of those positive-thinking, everything-will-work-out people. Well, most of the time. I would have an easier time picking out players that I hated who once wore, or still wear, the oil drop. Remember Cory Cross? Yup, I even have positive things to say about him. I felt bad for him and the way that everyone seemed to hate every aspect of his game.
Like I said, I picked after the rest of the writers here, so the likeliest picks were already snatched up. I waffled between a few - I really wanted to pick Marty Reasoner and Matt Greene for their comedy alone. In the end, however, I decided who better to go for than the man who captained the Oilers through the most games, the man who lead our Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup championships and within one (okay two) goal(s) of hoisting the Cup.
I'm one of those fans that Derek Zona wrote about earlier this week. I know I saw the dynasty team on the ice, and I know I saw them hoist the Cup, but I was too young to know that what I was seeing was hockey, and definitely too young to remember many details of the earliest glory years. Of course I remember more details as more time passed - I definitely remember the last Stanley Cup win. Sadly, my most vivid memories of the Oilers are of our seemingly annual meeting with the Dallas Stars and L.A. Kings in the playoffs, and a whole lot of mediocrity. Through it all, I knew that the Oilers were my team and could never see myself cheering for another in the same way. I loved each and every player that was signed or traded to Edmonton. I will never forget the day that the Oilers got Curtis Joseph. I babysat for a neighbour after school and during the summers. I really, really liked this neighbour. Why? She worked in the Oilers' head office. I remember how excited she was when she came in the door, and the way she made me guess what may have happened. See, we had some good times along with the bad.
Now I don't have the same sort of memories for the day that Jason Smith was drafted (18th overall), nor do I remember vividly the day he was traded to Edmonton. I don't remember being overly excited or watching for him with any expectations. No, Gator was a man who was more likely to grow on you than to overly excite from the get-go. Maybe you're special though, maybe you saw Smith for his talents before most of us did.
Drafted in 1992 by the New Jersey Devils, this Calgary native went on to win hockey gold in the World Juniors in 1993. Smith was later traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a "blockbuster" deal in 1997. I use the quotation marks because, well, it's the Leafs. How blockbuster is it for Oilers' fans, right? (If you are a Leafs fan as well as an Oilers' fan, I sincerely apologize and hope you will forgive me) It wasn't until 1999, and shortly before Doug Weight was traded (yet another man on my short list of favourite players) that Smith was traded to the Oilers. From the time that Smith first joined the Oilers, he showed his grit and leadership. My memories of Gator, the way I see him, usually feature a big grin, missing teeth, and standing up for his teammates, usually using his fists.
It's true that Jason Smith likely isn't remembered for his highlight reel goals, or their frequency -- he only had one NHL playoff goal in his career. No, Jason Smith was not an offensive juggernaut. At the same time, we likely don't remember Smith for his outspokenness, or his television interviews. Jason was a fairly quiet celebrity, but his community work and involvement spoke loudly for him. So how do I remember Smith and how is it that I find myself writing an article on how he is my favourite post-dynasty Oiler? I remember Jason Smith as being hard hitting, standing up for his teammates, and ready to fight when the situation called for it. I remember Smith playing through broken bones, bruises, sprains and scrapes, a man who seemingly played for the sheer "love of the game." When you think about it, on the ice, Gator was MEAN. How else do we remember Smith? As the longest serving captain of the Oilers. True in terms of seasons played, Smith ties with Gretzky, but looking at the number of games Smith was captain for we see the distinction; 542 regular season games and 45 Stanley Cup playoff games.
I remember watching Gator get stitched on the bench, swearing after being hit by pucks, but I never ever remember him backing down. More often than not I would cringe as he crushed someone into the boards, knowing that it had to hurt. True, towards the end of Smith's time in Edmonton, you had to wonder if his early knee injury was slowing him down, and you were pretty sure that his physical play was starting to catch up to him. Many were not surprised - they might even have been relieved - when Gator left, but that's only because we knew that it wouldn't be much longer before Smith decided he had had enough. I will never forget how sad I was to see our captain leave town, but I think it spoke volumes of his character that Philadelphia made him their captain immediately upon his arrival. I didn't cry as much over this video as I did for Ryan Smyth, but do you remember this video, played on Jason Smith's return to Edmonton?
As we know, Jason Smith is now retired and we wait to see if he will return to the Oilers as a coach. What do you remember about Jason Smith?