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Who Replaces Ladislav Smid?

Smid's gone, but someone has to step into his minutes and there aren't any good candidates.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

I've been critical of Ladislav Smid's play this season, especially his inability to handle the puck. However, I've kept context in mind, realizing that Smid is a 2nd-pairing defenseman playing 1st-pairing minutes and has done so off and on since 2009 and full-time since 2011. Depth is not the strong suit of the Edmonton management team. Smid has been forced into that role because the Oilers have one top-pairing defender in Jeff Petry, and no one else.

When the Oilers traded Ladislav Smid to the Flames for pocket lint, it was another in a long line of moves in which the Oilers sent away real NHL players for nothing, and another in a long line of moves in which the Oilers dropped real NHL defensemen without a backup plan. And though a lack of a backup plan has been the hallmark of the Edmonton Oilers for the last decade, that was supposed to change with the new General Manager and his version of bold moves in rebuild v1.4.

He does have a significant backing, if Twitter and comments are a valid source of fan reaction. There is an underlying (if somewhat subdued) belief that Andrew Ference is better, so why not let Ference play Smid's top pairing position so that the Oilers can give ice time to Philip Larsen? Below is a table that includes the relevant numbers to the discussion:

Offensive Zonestart Ratio
Denis Grebeshkov 0.56
Jeff Petry 0.295
Taylor Fedun 21.00
Justin Schultz 0.529
Ladislav Smid 0.293
Denis Grebeshkov 11.04
Anton Belov 0.496
Andrew Ference 0.288
Anton Belov 0.80
Andrew Ference 0.479
Nick Schultz 0.284
Justin Schultz -4.51
Taylor Fedun 0.467
Justin Schultz 0.283
Jeff Petry -8.60
Jeff Petry 0.424
Anton Belov 0.283
Nick Schultz -9.96
Nick Schultz 0.421
Denis Grebeshkov 0.278
Andrew Ference -11.26
Philip Larsen 0.389
Taylor Fedun 0.269
Ladislav Smid -15.34
Ladislav Smid 0.348
Philip Larsen 0.266
Philip Larsen -31.08

Basically, it's The Jeff Petry Experience and the rest are his roadies. Petry plays the toughest minutes with tough zonestarts and hasn't been successful, but he's not getting killed like the others with easier workloads. Smid plays the same top competition with tougher zonestarts and worse results. Note Ference - middling starts, second competition, poor Corsi. I've presented the data in a the graph below.

Click here for a higher resolution image.
The graph above uses TotTm% QoC on the x-axis, and offensive zonestart ratio on the y-axis. The size of the bubble represents absolute value of zonestart adjusted Corsi, while a blue bubble indicates a positive adjusted Corsi and a white bubble indicates a negative.

So how does Dallas Eakins fix the mess Craig MacTavish left behind? If he, as fans seem to want him to, moves Andrew Ference into Smid's role, he's moving a player with a worse zonestart-adjusted Corsi into a role against tougher competition:

Zonestart-adjusted Corsi
Taylor Fedun 22.814
Denis Grebeshkov 7.719
Anton Belov 0.9775
Jeff Petry -5.267
Justin Schultz -5.796
Nick Schultz -6.395
Ladislav Smid -8.973
Andrew Ference -10.28
Philip Larsen -25.34

Given their respective assignments, Andrew Ference has struggled more than any other regular, and only Anton Belov looks like he could step into a second-pairing role and possibly succeed. What are the odds that moving Ference into Smid's role produces better results? And in turn, will playing Nick Schultz against second-flight competition be a smart move?

I'm still of the mind that a Denis Grebeshkov - Justin Schultz 3rd pairing gives the Oilers the best chance of success and that Anton Belov needs to move up a notch and will likely succeed. Petry stays put, but that leaves two holes in the lineup and no backup plan.

Depth is not the strong suit of the Edmonton management team.